One of the reasons thats sports is such a wonderful escape is because you do not have to deal with all the terrible things that are all too real in the outside world. Sadly, the outside world reminded us how it can still cruelly intrude in sports, when 26 year old hockey player Darcy Robinson fell to the ice, suffering an apparent heart attack and would be pronounced dead before he got to the hospital.
The death of a player is terrible and shocking enough. That the player was so full of life is something of a sad and bitter irony. Mr. Robinson might be a footnote now to history as a random and unfortunate on-ice death, but to a lot of people, he's a lot more than that.
Robinson, a 8th round draft pick of the Penguins in 1999, split time between ECHL Wheeling, AHL Wilkes-Barre and the bench over four seasons (2001-02 through 2004-05). This year would have been his third season playing with Asiago of the Italian league; he had duel Canadian/Italian citizenship, something I did not know.
As a player, Robinson was pretty plain. A hulking defenseman who's skating and puck-handling held him to below the NHL level, but he still a decent enough all around talent, was huge and physical and got in a scrap or two standing up for a teammate.
As a person though, Darcy Robinson was quite the character. In 2002-03 the NHL had a documentary crew follow the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and made a television series out of it. The aptly named 'Chasing the Dream' highlighted most of the team, but naturally seemed to gravitate to a few of the more personable and colorful players like forwards Colby Armstrong, Shane Endicott, goalie Rob Tallas and defenseman Darcy Robinson.
It was a sterling time for the Penguins prospects, as 12 players who laced 'em up for WB/S that season (13 if David Koci sticks with Chicago) either played in the NHL last season or are on a NHL roster today.
Since Robinson was in and out of the lineup, he wasn't highlighted because of his skill, but his magnetic personality. In one particular episode, I fondly remember Darcy as the lone Penguins representative for a promotion at a lonely, small Northeastern Pennsylvania gas station--oh the joys of minor league hockey! Robinson had a great attitude about it; doing everything from signing autographs for moody teenage girls, to pumping gas and washing off windshields. And he did it all with his Krusty the Klown-esque long, curly hair and quick, witty comments that just made it impossible not to laugh and feel a little bit better. He was genuinely happy to be there and actually comical on top of that. He brightened days and made for good television.
Another great moment was when the Pens were on a road trip and Darcy was in an empty lobby of a hotel. He was sitting behind a grand piano, with a huge smile on his face. Robinson was swaying back and forth and the piano was making beautiful music. But then, you could tell it wasn't adding up.
Darcy was swaying a little too far and smiling a little too much. Eventually he was bringing his hands up, but the piano was still jamming out notes. Unable to keep the rouse up any longer, Darcy busted out laughing and dashed away from the piano. The camera pans around to confirm what you started catching on to: this, of course, was a player piano all along. I re-watched this sequence 4 times last night, tears streaming down my face....But even then I couldn't help but still be smiling.
Darcy Robinson wasn't a household name, even amongst the most die-hard of hockey fans. If he hadn't played for the Penguins and hadn't been featured on Chasing the Dream so much, I probably would have never heard of him.
But the people who he did come across, and who got to see his jokes, his smile, his laugh and personality knew how incredible a person he was. So full of life, with immense promise on the rink and off of it. And now, in the blink of an eye, he's gone.
It's hard to describe how goofy, hilarious and genuine Darcy really was, all at the same time. He was a joyful, decent and tremendously good natured man. Certainly my thoughts are with his entire family, all his friends and his fiancee. As hockey fans, I speak for us all when I say thank you for giving us a chance to know someone as refreshingly honest and purely happy. Not to mention humorous.
Rest in peace Darcy...I hope heaven is chock full of gas stations and player pianos.