After a year of getting beat up, the Detroit Red Wings “drafted big”, big guys across the board, which landed Canadian novice Bobby Probert was on the team. Bob Probert wasn’t just big, he was tough, and he had a reputation as a fighter. You know, to “protect his teammates.” As you do. This was the 80s, so hockey was rougher and refs were scarce. On-ice brawls were a lot more common than they are today, and Probert was only too happy to oblige. But Probert’s lack of restraint wasn’t just on the rink; off-hours, he drank heavily and did drugs. When stories of DUIs and police altercations hit the papers, the NHL forced him into treatment, and a lot of good that did – he hooked up with one of the counselors and brought her home. He must have been a charming schmuck because not only is that a huge breach of professionalism, it’s also pretty hard to overlook his chronically missing teeth.
The documentary shows the Red Wings management selfishly slapping bandaid solutions on the troubled kid. Their franchise was having a couple of difficult seasons, and if there weren’t any goals to get the hometown crowd excited, a fist fight would do it, and “The Bruise Brothers” (with Joey Kocur) became marketing gold. The coach kept indiscreetly mouthing off to the press, and Probert was now skating high, a cocaine-fueled rage machine waiting for a target.
Back and forth between Detroit (USA) and Windsor (Canada), it was only a matter of time before border patrol found drugs in Probert’s possession. Sure jail was a possibility, but so was deportation, and that was a threat to his career. The NHL failed him in more than one way: he was constantly told that he played better (meaner) when he was drinking than sober, but a contract with serious money was the best incentive for sobriety, and for a time, it worked.
Tough Guy interviews former teammates, former rivals (Tie Domi!), family members, even Don Cherry. It’s a Canadian wet dream, except it tells a dark tale with a mean downward spiral.