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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

From Wheels to Ice: NHL Players with Roller Hockey Roots

If you were alive in the 1990s, you will remember the phenomenon that was inline skating, aka Rollerblading. No one was immune to its charms, and that includes the game of hockey. While roller hockey had existed for many years, the best incarnation of a pro roller hockey league to date has to be Roller Hockey International, which ran from 1993 to 1999. One of the league founders, Dennis Murphy, was the man behind the World Hockey Association.

One could write an entire book on the topic of the league and its rise and fall (in fact, a great one is Wheelers, Dealers, Bucks & Pucks: A Rocking History of Roller Hockey International by Richard Neil Graham), for today's post I want to highlight some NHL players that either started their pro hockey careers in RHI, or former NHLers that made more of a career on wheels than skates.

Manny Legace: before starting a 11 year NHL career highlighted by a 2002 Stanley Cup win and appearance in the 2008 all-star game, Legace was a star goalie with the Toronto Planets during the 1993 RHI season.

Darren Langdon: an enforcer who played 10 NHL seasons with five different franchises, Langdon scored 26 points and 119 penalty minutes in 21 games during the 1994 RHI season with the Anaheim Bullfrogs.

Glen Metropolit: a veteran of 407 NHL games between 1999 and 2010, Metropolit scored 71 points in 28 games with the Long Island Jawz in 1996 while also appearing in games with the New Jersey Rockin' Rollers in 1997.

Bryan Trottier: a Hall of Famer who won six Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, Trottier played in 9 games with the Pittsburgh Phantoms in 1994, scoring 22 points.

Al Secord: the hard-nosed defenceman recorded 2093 penalty minutes over a 14 year NHL career, which he capped off with 18 games during the 1994 RHI season with the Chicago Cheetahs, scoring 25 points in 18 games.

Many other NHL alumni were involved as owners or coaches in RHI, including former St. Louis Blues Perry Turnbull and Bernie Federko (St. Louis Vipers), Dave 'Tiger' Williams (Vancouver VooDoo), Walt Poddubny (Las Vegas Flash and Orlando Rollergators) and Ken Morrow (Los Vegas Flash).

495 - Don Gibson

A defenceman, Gibson was drafted 49th overall by Vancouver in the 1986 draft. He went on to play four seasons of college hockey at Michigan State, captaining the Wolverines his senior season. Gibson turned pro in 1990-91, splitting the season between Milwaukee in the IHL and Vancouver. He played in 14 games with the Canucks, scoring three assists and recording 20 penalty minutes in what would be his only NHL season.

Gibson played three additional seasons with Milwaukee, notably recording 381 penalty minutes in the 1992-93 season along with 17 points.

YouTube clip: starting a scrap during a game between Milwaukee and Indianapolis in the IHL in December 1991. Gibson starts the fracas by getting too close to the Ice’s tightly wound goalie, future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek.

496 - Ralph Barahona

Undrafted after four seasons of college hockey at Wisconsin - Stevens Point, Barahona signed as a free agent with Boston in 1990. After scoring 80 points in 41 games as a junior, he managed 52 points in 72 games with Maine in the AHL during his first pro season. Barahona also appeared in three games with the Bruins in 1990-91, scoring two goals and adding an assist.

The 1991-92 season saw Barahona play three more games with the Bruins, recording one assist in what would be his final NHL games. The following season he played for three different teams in the AHL and IHL, then spent 1993-94 season in the ECHL. Following a one season hiatus, Barahona signed with San Diego in the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL), winning a league title while scoring 31 goals and 87 points. He left ice hockey again, this time for three seasons, rejoining the WCHL in 1998-99 to play three seasons before retiring for good after the 2000-01 season.

A native of Long Beach, California, Barahona also played professional roller hockey from 1993 to 1999, primarily with Roller Hockey International. An undersized forward (5’10”, 180 pounds), his best roller hockey season came in 1994 with the Phoenix Cobras, scoring 24 goals and 51 points in 19 games. Barahona also suited up for the Los Angeles Blades, San Diego Barracudas, Anaheim Bullfrogs and San Jose Rhinos during his time in RHI.

In retirement he has coached youth hockey in the southern US, and according to this LinkedIn profile, currently works as a playground inspector in Mesa, Arizona, and was also a certified drone pilot.

497- Murray Baron

A defenceman, Baron was drafted 167th overall by Philadelphia in 1986 after playing three seasons at the University of North Dakota. He turned pro after his junior season, and spending that season of 1989-90 split between Hershey in the AHL and the Flyers, scoring four points in 16 NHL games.

Baron set career highs in his second NHL season, scoring eight goals and 16 points. The following season he was traded to St. Louis with Ron Sutter for Rod Brind’Amour and Dan Quinn. Over the next five seasons with the Blues Baron developed into a hard-nosed defenceman, topping out at 14 points in 1993-94 while recording 90 or more penalty minutes in four of five seasons, including a career-high 190 PIMs in 1995-96.

Early in the 1996-97 season he was traded to Montreal in a five player swap that saw the Blues acquire Pierre Turgeon. Baron played 60 games with the Habs, scoring one goal and six points before a second trade, going to Phoenix for defenceman Dave Manson. After one additional season with the Coyotes, Baron signed with Vancouver, returning to his home province of British Columbia. He played five seasons with the Canucks, highlighted by the 2003 playoffs where Baron played in 14 games, recording four assists, as Vancouver lost in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals to Minnesota. Baron returned to the Blues for one final season in 2003-04 before retiring.

In 15 NHL seasons, Baron played in 988 games, scoring 35 goals, 129 points and 1309 penalty minutes. He was one of many players robbed of an additional NHL seasons (and possibly 1000 career games) by the 2004-05 lockout. In retirement he has coached youth hockey and owned several businesses in the Kamloops area.

YouTube clip: a spirited tilt against Grant Marshall, with Baron knocking down Marshall with a big punch.

498 - Yves Racine

A defenceman, Racine was drafted 11th overall by Detroit in the 1987 draft. A star in the QMJHL, Racine scored 23 goals and 108 points with Victoriaville in 1988-89, and was named defenceman of the year. He also made his pro debut in the 1989 playoffs with Adirondack in the AHL, playing in two games as part of a Calder Cup winning team.

During the 1989-90 season Racine appeared in 28 games with the Red Wings, scoring four goals and 13 points. Over the next three seasons with the Wings he racked up points, recording 18 goals and 111 points in 203 games. Racine was traded to Philadelphia in October 1993 for Terry Carkner. In his first season with the Flyers he scored nine goals and 52 points, both career highs.

In the 1993 off-season Racine was traded to Montreal in exchange for defenceman Kevin Haller. His offensive touch declined with the Habs, as he recorded only 14 points in 72 games over parts of two seasons. In January 1996 Racine was selected off waivers by San Jose, scoring 17 points in 32 games with the Sharks. After less than a calendar year with the Sharks he was traded to Calgary in December, scoring 16 points in 46 games with Calgary. Racine’s final NHL stop came with Tampa Bay in 1997-98, recording eight assists in 60 games.

Racine crossed the Atlantic to play in Finland for two seasons, then moved to Germany, where he would spend five seasons with Adler Mannheim, winning a league title in 2001. Racine ended his hockey career with two seasons in the semi-pro LNAH in his home province of Quebec.

In nine NHL seasons, Racine played in 508 games, scoring 37 goals and 231 points. In retirement he has operated several businesses, including a contractor supply store and real estate development firm.

YouTube clip: scoring the overtime winner in Game 3 of 1992 Norris Division Semi-Finals. The Red Wings were down 2-0 in the series, and would go down 3-1 before winning three games in a row to defeat Minnesota.

499 - Larry Robinson

A defenceman, Robinson was drafted 20th overall by Montreal in the 1971 draft. A 20 year old, he turned pro following the draft, winning a Calder Cup in his first pro season with Nova Scotia. Robinson’s second season was split between the Canadiens and the AHL, scoring two goals and six points in the NHL regular season. He added five points in 11 playoff games as the Habs won the 1973 Stanley Cup.

Robinson would go on to become a key part of the Habs’ 1970s dynasty along with fellow defenceman Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe, forming the ‘Big Three.’ From 1976-77 to 1980-81 Robinson achieved the following:

  • Three time first team all-star and two time second team all-star;

  • Norris Trophy finalist each year, winning twice;

  • Top 10 in Hart Trophy voting four times;

  • Won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1978, leading the playoffs in assists, points and plus/minus;

  • Won four straight Stanley Cup from 1976 to 1979;

  • The second highest ever plus/minus rating in a single season at +120. During this time his lowest rating was +38; and

  • 10+ goals and 50+ points each season, with career-high 19 goals and 85 points in 1976-77.

The early 1980s would be considered down years by Robinson’s standards, as he did not make any all-star teams or win any trophies, but he did manage to score 40+ points each season. 1985-86 was a renaissance year, with Robinson scoring 19 goals and 82 points while being named a second team all-star and a Norris finalist. He also won his sixth Cup with the Habs, recording 13 assists in 20 games. Robinson would play three more seasons with the Canadiens, recording his tenth and final 50+ point season in 1986-87.

Robinson signed with Los Angeles in 1989-90, recording 39 points in his first season as a King. He would play two more seasons in California, retiring after the 1991-92 season. In 20 NHL seasons Robinson played in 1384 games (44th all-time), scoring 208 goals, 750 assists (48th all-time) and 958 points. His +722 career rating is first all-time. Robinson also played in 10 all-star games. A large player for his time, Robinson was nicknamed Big Bird, standing 6’4” tall, and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

Shortly after retiring Robinson embarked upon a coaching career that rivals his playing career for longevity. He began as an assistant coach with New Jersey before becoming head coach with Los Angeles in 1995. Robinson returned to the Devils as an assistant coach in 1999, and would take over from head coach Robbie Ftorek part way through the season. He would lead the Devils to the Stanley Cup that season, and remained in that position until he was replaced by Kevin Constantine during the 2001-02 season. Robinson remained with the Devils as a special assignment coach, and would briefly take over the head coaching duties again during the 2005-06 season. In 2007-08, and then from 2010 to 2012 he would again be an assistant coach with the Devils. From 2012 to 2015 he worked for San Jose and most recently he worked as a consultant with St. Louis from 2018 to 2021.

YouTube clip: career highlight video after being named one of the NHL's Top 100 players of all-time.

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