Long-Time Friendship Provides Oilers Success
By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer
HOCKEY HISTORY: Tulsa Oilers center Todd Robinson came to the Tulsa Oilers thanks to his long-time professional relationship and friendship with Oilers coach Bruce Ramsay.
Friendship is important to Tulsa Oilers center Todd Robinson. After 15 years as a minor professional hockey league scoring machine, there still exists a special bond between Robinson and Oilers coach Bruce Ramsay.
Robinson played with and, later, for Ramsay in Muskegon, Mich., and they became such good buddies that the B.C. native postponed his retirement one season so he could play for his old mentor in Tulsa. It’s Robinson’s thirst for winning that has kept his competitive fires burning through a legendary career. The flame has yet to be extinguished.
“Rammer and I played together and he made sure nothing happened to me,’’ says Robinson. “He was the enforcer, and we won a championship in his last year at Muskegon. He took me under his wing when I was a younger pro, and he taught me what it was like to be a pro. We became good friends.’’
That relationship led to Robinson winning five league championships and piling up 354 goals, 1,008 assists and 1,362 points in 975 games as a pro. He’s won three league scoring titles and was on track for another with the Oilers until an ankle injury put him on the 14-day disabled list.
Nonetheless, Robinson remains the CHL’s premiere assist man and led the league with 49 before being injured at home against Missouri on Jan. 24.
“We have a history together from our days in Muskegon,’’ says Ramsay, now in his fifth season as coach of the Oilers. “He was one of the best players in the league. He was the same kind of player he is now, opportunistic with great vision. He thinks the game better than anybody I’ve ever known. He puts the puck where a player will be, and it’s like he has a crystal ball. He makes the right decisions.’’
Ramsay coached Robinson two seasons in Muskegon, and the 35-year-old won United Hockey League Most Valuable Player honors both years. Given financial resources, Ramsay says his prize pupil would have arrived in Tulsa much sooner. The time was right after Robinson scored the championship-clinching goal for Allen in overtime during the seventh game of last year’s playoff finals.
“I was planning on retiring, and then Bruce talked to me about coming back,’’ Robinson says. “He talked to my wife, and our wives are good friends. We decided it was a better situation for me to come to Tulsa.
“The way things ended last year was kind of nice, but I am 99 percent sure I will retire at the end of this season. This has been a long, rough year on my family. This is the first time I’ve been away from them, and I don’t want to do that again. My wife got a job, and my kids are in school and I miss them.’’
Robinson says he’s planning on taking a real estate course, and he already has a job lined up. Living in Muskegon will allow him to be close to Ramsay. The coach has a home in Grand Rapids, just 41 miles away, which will allow them to see each other often.
Before hanging up his skates for good, though, Robinson still has goals in mind.
“I want to win another championship; there is not a better feeling,’’ he said. “With the team we have now, it’s a realistic goal. I’m proud of my (individual) accomplishments, but at the end of day winning that championship is something you take with you forever. The friendships you make on a championship team are unlike any other bond that you have.’’
Oilers Nation is hoping the ties that bind equal Tulsa’s first playoff crown since 1993. Ramsay has much faith in Robinson producing during crunch time, and that time is quickly approaching.
“We always wanted to reunite ourselves, and loyalty and friendship transcend money,’’ Ramsay says, who notes that his best player could have earned more financial reward with another team. “He’s showing he’s one of the top players in the league. Even though he’s missed a few games, he’s still in the top three (now top four) scorers in the league.
“Todd’s been a dish man his whole career, and when he gets over 100 points, 80 percent of them will be assists. He’s older now, but he still finds a way to put up points.’’
In 175 games, Robinson has 194 assists and 259 points, adding 30 and 42 in the playoffs. It seems as though wherever Robinson goes, winning follows.
“My playmaking abilities are what makes me a good player,’’ he says. “I understand the game, and my job is to get the puck into other people’s hands. I get them into a position to score. I just want to contribute, and I’ve always thought an assist is as good as a goal. My mom always tells me to shoot more because she would like to see me score more goals, but I just want to do anything to help.’’
Robinson admits he used to follow the scoring race, but at this stage of his career it seems a bit trivial. Team victories are what’s important along with helping younger players, he believes. His time in hockey has come full circle.
“As you get older, you learn things and you try to explain to the younger guys about how to answer the bell in certain situations,’’ says Robinson. “There is a teaching aspect, and I’m able to help the guys through the experiences I’ve had.
“I would take making the playoffs over a scoring title any day. We have a lot of good guys on our team, and they can score goals. I still think I can play, but as you get older it sometimes becomes harder. You’ve got to become smarter and figure out different ways to get things done out there.’’
Robinson has discovered one way to get by is with a little help from his friends. And if Ramsay has his way, they will be celebrating together one last time when the season is over.