Commentary

Coming through for mom

Originally Published: October 19, 2012
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Luc Robitaille Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesLuc Robitaille celebrates after his Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup on June 11, 2012.
This story has been corrected. Read below

In his entire Hall of Fame hockey career, L.A. Kings president of business operations Luc Robitaille had been asked for only one thing by his mom -- towels.

"To rub my bowling balls with," she specified in her native French. "With the Kings' logo on them. For luck."

So when he got a call out of the blue from her during the second round of the NHL playoffs this past May, he was worried. After all, she was 70 with advanced liver cancer. She was on morphine. The doctors were already surprised she was still alive after two-and-a-half years. Most people make it only a year.

"If you win the [Stanley] Cup," Madeleine Robitaille asked, "would you bring it home?"

Bizarre thing to ask. The Kings had never won the Cup. They'd been to the Cup finals only once in their 44 years. And they were a No. 8 seed, which is not hopeless but is close enough to smell its cologne. It was like asking an elephant to tap-dance. Still, something about it gave Robitaille a tingle.

"I remember, I hung up the phone and I thought, 'Wait a minute,'" Robitaille says. "'She's never asked me for anything all these years. And now she wants me to bring the Cup home? We're going to win this thing!"

Hockey players can find a sign in a bowl of Top Ramen, but this good thing wouldn't go away. The Kings promptly cleaned up the St. Louis Blues in four games. After that, they dispatched the Phoenix Coyotes. Before each series, Robitaille said to himself, "This is a sure thing. Because my mom is asking!"

Then, zut alors!, the Kings beat the New Jersey Devils in six games to steal a Stanley Cup so shocking it must've woken Lord Stanley himself.

Atop the party-on-ice afterward at Staples Center, Robitaille looked into the lens of a live Quebec TV camera and said, "Maman, je te l'ai promis la coupe s'en vient a Saint-Norbert."

"Mama, I told you the cup was coming to Saint-Norbert!"

That night, in that little coffee spot on a map, that little hamlet of 1,058 people in Quebec, his mom sat flabbergasted in her chair. This was really going to happen? The Cup had never been to Saint-Norbert. Ever! Her phone started ringing and didn't stop.

"She was almost mad at me," Robitaille remembers. "She was like, 'I can't believe you did that to me! Everybody's calling me!'"

In hockey, every player, coach, suit, trainer and scrub gets a day with the Cup. Twenty-four hours to do whatever his heart desires with it. So far this offseason, Kings right winger Justin Williams ate Cheerios out of it. At one point, two Kings players took it to a Hollywood club where a little person with green hair was inserted into it.

But nobody did anything better with it than Robitaille on Sept 19. He brought the Cup straight home, just as his mom had asked.

It went to the community center, and the whole town showed up. There was a (very short) parade on a fire truck. It sat on his mom's coffee table. She got to hold it, touch it and have pictures taken with it. But only a few.

[+] EnlargeRobitaille Family
Courtesy of Robitaille FamilyMadeleine Robitaille, third from left, enjoys one of the few favors she ever asked of her Hockey Hall of Famer son Luc.
"She's very quiet," Robitaille says. "And she's Canadian. When Canadian people get around the Cup, they treat it like it's holy. They barely touch it. It's almost like they think it's going to change their life."

Maybe that's why Madeleine Robitaille asked for the Mount Everest of favors -- a Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup to be plunked down in her living room? Maybe she thought it would change her life? Or her luck?

"I don't know why she asked," Robitaille says. "I know she's worried with the cancer. She thinks about a lot of things. She's scared about her life. Or maybe, I don't know, she just wanted to be with it."

In a quiet moment that spectacular day, Robitaille looked at his mother and thought about all the early mornings she drove him to practice, even though she was terrified to drive. Thought about all the times she sat in chilled ice arenas ringing her little bell to cheer for her son, even though she herself hadn't skated in 30 years.Thought about all the times she had flown to meet him in all the places he has played -- L.A., Detroit, Pittsburgh and New York -- even if only for one dinner. And he thought, "This is one of the greatest moments of my life."

He sidled up to her and said, "How do you feel?"

"I can't believe you did this for me," she said. "Did you do it because of my health?"

"No, Mom," he said. "Sick or not sick, if you ask me for the Cup, it's coming."

She beamed. She laughed. She teared up a little.

Sometimes you lift the cup. Sometimes it lifts you.

An Oct. 18 story on ESPN.com incorrectly characterized what Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings did with the Stanley Cup during the offseason. The anecdote the story relied on was false.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com