July 10, 2010 at 1:00 am

Bob Probert's daughter: 'My father was called to heaven'

Friends and family gather to say goobye to Bob Pro...
Friends and family gather to say goobye to Bob Pro...: Friends and family gather to say goobye to Bob Probert

Windsor -- Bob Probert was a tough guy with soft hands who could fight and shoot the puck and whose life off-ice was colorful and, at times, worrisome.

So when 1,000 people gathered to mourn him Friday, it was not unexpected that many former teammates, a crew of legendary NHL tough guys and fans from across Metro Detroit and Windsor listened to stories about his career and his occasional pratfalls as a person. What was less expected, perhaps, was the tender stories about an enormously compassionate man who was a dedicated husband, father, nephew and friend.

There were his trips to visit soldiers in Afghanistan, and a life-saving surgery for a child in Los Angeles, for which Probert paid anonymously. There was the love for his wife, Dani, which his children said he demonstrated every day.

"On July 5, 2010, my life changed forever," said Probert's oldest daughter, Tierney. "My father was called to heaven. As we all know, heaven will never be the same."

Another daughter, Brogan, the second oldest, told of a father so generous with his time that their mother, Dani, laid down the law.

"It finally got to the point where my mother made a rule: You are not allowed to ask him for anything, because the answer will always be yes," Brogan said. "They say the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. That is what my father did. He loved my mother, unconditionally."

Probert, 45, died Monday of what family members say was a massive heart attack. He outlived his father, Al, a street-tough Windsor police officer who also died of a heart attack, by four years.

His career helped provide the bridge from the "Dead Things" era of professional hockey in Detroit through the launch of what has become the most successful NHL franchise of the era. One of the league's toughest players and best "enforcers," Probert helped protect the young Steve Yzerman during the nascent days of his Hall of Fame career.

"It was quite a thrill for us and our fans to see a rebirth in the Red Wings organization," said Yzerman, now the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who spoke about his teammate for five minutes at the memorial service. "Bob was a major reason, and a major part of that.

"Most will remember Bob for his fighting ability and his scoring touch," he said. "But it was much more that that. Bob was an intelligent hockey player, with great hockey sense. He knew how to play the game. His instincts weren't taught, he was born with them. For a player with fists of stone, he had incredibly soft hands. His hockey skills, passing and scoring touch made him a rare commodity in the game.

"Whether it was a young hockey fan with a sick child, an employee at Joe Louis Arena, your wife or your own daughter and son, Bob always took the time to say hello, engage in friendly conversation and make you all feel at ease," Yzerman said. "People who met him for the first time always walked away thinking, 'Wow, what a nice guy.' He endeared himself to all."

As Probert's four children stood in front of the huge throng and some hockey luminaries -- including many other former Red Wings, such as Dino Ciccarelli, John Ogrodnick, Joe Kocur, Gerard Gallant, Stu Grimson, Dave Lewis and owners Mike and Marian Ilitch -- they were models of grace under pressure, and deep sorrow. Much of the memorial at the Windsor Christian Fellowship was joyous, as the family said it intended. But when Brogan Probert said she was coping with the realizations that her father would not see her 16th birthday, teach her to drive or walk her down the aisle at her wedding, the children and those gathered began to weep, heavily and openly.

"He was a hero to so many people, larger than any you can find in the comics or on the screen," said Probert's uncle, Mike Coady, an English teacher. "Like many heroes, he embodied the dark and the light. He defied definition."

Outside the church, Probert's casket was laid on the sidecar of a motorcycle. About 70 motorcyclists, some from four clubs in Windsor, escorted the long funeral procession through the streets of the city, as spectators looked on from the sidewalks.

At the end of the service, standing outside the church were four great enforcers of Probert's era, men who were paid to use their fists to protect star players and enforce hockey justice as part of the game that uninformed spectators often fail to understand: Kocur, Grimson, Tie Domi and Chris Nilan.

Nilan, the former player for the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins, who has admitted alcohol and drug problems and who appeared particularly gaunt, stood talking with Domi for 25 minutes. Three times, the men shook hands as if to part, before they finally left each other's company.

"Bob was a big, loving Teddy Bear who showed what a great person he was," Domi told reporters. "Obviously, everyone wants to talk about the battles we had over the years. But I got to know the guy who was a great father and a great husband -- and that's what I got to admire about Bob Probert."

Fans line the street as Bob Probert's casket is taken to Christian Fellowship Church in Windsor on Friday. / Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News
The cover of the program from Friday's service at Windsor's ... (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)
Steve Yzerman, a teammate of Bob Probert's, speaks to reporters after ... (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)
Bob Probert's son, Jack, wearing the light blue shirt, watches as the ... (Clarence Tabb Jr./The Detroit News)