Hearing the news that Sabres broadcaster Mike Robitaille will be retiring at the end of the 2013-2014 season brings an end to another era. Robitaille had been the color analyst with Sabres legendary play-by-play man Ted Darling in the 1980’s after his NHL career had ended. Robitaille was in my opinion the best analyst the Sabres have ever had and his ability to turn a phrase greatly added to his insight. Such lines as “that was tighter than a mouse’s ear” when describing the small opening a skater had to get through a crowd was one.

In the early 1990’s Robitaille had a falling out with the Sabres ownership and the broadcast department and was out of a gig. I was working at Empire Sports Network at the time and was asked by owner John Rigas to develop a call-in post game show to air after Sabres games. My first and last choice for a host was Mike Robitaille.

The decision to hire Mike did not go over well with the Sabres and I had to defend the hire to then Empire Sports owner John Rigas. John backed me up 100% and the relationship between Empire and the Sabres broadcast department was a contentious one for a period of time because of Mike’s presence on our Network.

Mike hosted Hockey Hotline and was the sole anchor for two years, conducting guest and player interviews and the show did fine. However, Mike’s day job back then was running Fort Erie Race Track with his buddy and track PR man Brian Blessing, the former Ch 4 sportscaster. I decided to free Mike of his anchor duties and we hired Brian to run the show and let Mike just worry about being Mike. The result was a funnier, more candid Mike Robitaille than ever before.

With Mike Robitaille saying exactly what was on his mind and as Howard Cosell would say “telling it like it is” the show’s popularity grew. Brian Blessing would set Mike up and Robitaille would let loose. It made Hockey Hotline the most successful NHL postgame show in the league.

I can tell you I received more than one call from Sabres management complaining about Mike’s candor and asking how we could have a Sabres post game show that was so critical of the team? It was a valid question and certainly unusual for a regional sports network to do anything but produce a team owned broadcast following the game telecast.

I even had to make one trip to the Arena and defend Mike’s comments after one game to then owner Norty Knox and CEO Larry Quinn. To Norty’s credit, after he viewed a tape of Mike’s description of a certain defense-men, Norty agreed with Mike and that was the end of it.

When Adelphia and the Rigas family bought the Sabres it did not change Mike’s style one bit. John Rigas told Mike that he loved the show and just keep doing what he was doing. Mike was equally as good doing the “Sharp Shooters” radio pregame show on then WNSA, 107.7 FM with the late Jim Kelley. The pair of them made for great radio and a joy to listen to.

Mike Robitaille was the voice of the fan every night out, until Empire Sports went dark in 2005.

Mike Robitaille then resurfaced with the Sabres under Tom Golisano ownership and was reunited with his Hockey Hotline producer Chrisanne Bellas, now VP of Broadcast for the team. Yet, Mike had to change up his game, working directly for the team again. What we got was a “politically correct” Mike Robitaille and I can’t blame him one bit. You have to do what you have to do to put food on the table. Believe me, I’ve been there. Either way, I still enjoyed watching Mike, especially on the rare nights he got to do color with Rick Jeanneret.

I will always consider Mike Robitaille one of the most colorful and opinionated hockey analysts ever to appear on the screen and a pleasure to watch. I’ll savor his final season and no doubt it will come to an end all too quick.






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