NORBERTVILLE, Canada — Madeleine Robitaille could have requested anything from her Hockey Hall of Fame son Luc and he would have moved mountains to give it to her, but that isn’t her way. She and her husband, Claude, worked hard for all they had as they raised three kids in Montreal, Madeleine unfailingly elegant from her well-coiffed head to her stylish feet.
“We always joke that everything she wears matches,” said Luc, the Kings’ president of business operations and dutiful son who calls his parents at least three times a week.
It was during one of those calls, on the day the Kings were poised to sweep the St. Louis Blues in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, that she startled him. “She’s never asked me for anything, my mom,” he said. “She said, ‘Hey, if you win the Cup, can you take it home this time?’ It was very matter-of-fact. I was like yeah, sure. I hung up the phone thinking, ‘We’re going to win the Stanley Cup.'”
After a moment’s reflection, his thoughts went deeper. “When someone who has never asked you to do something asks you, it means something,” he said.
Madeleine has liver cancer and her pain is being eased by morphine while she awaits an experimental treatment program. She still looks chic but she tires easily and some days are better than others. “She’s got a cancer,” Claude Robitaille said. “And she asked Luc. She figures it’s the last time she’ll see it.”
After Luc won the Cup in 2002 as a player for the Detroit Red Wings, he brought his parents to Los Angeles to celebrate. Three months after he won the Cup as a Kings executive he brought the Cup to them in Norbertville, a town nestled among dairy farms and gold-leafed trees two hours northeast of Montreal in the municipality of Saint-Norbert-d’Arthabaska.
He had promised during a TV interview moments after the Kings’ triumph that he would bring the Cup to the home his parents had built 15 years ago to be close to family during their retirement. He kept his word. The Cup held a place of honor in their living room Wednesday, a glorious trophy burnished by a son’s loving gesture.
That she had asked him for this was true, Madeleine said. “It’s because my health is not very good,” she said, then stopped to wipe away tears. “He said, ‘Mommy, I was telling you that if we won I’m going to bring the Cup to Saint-Norbert.'”
Soon everyone in the municipality — population 1,261, according to its director general, Linda Trottier — called Claude and Madeleine and begged to see the Cup. They satisfied as many requests as they could.
While Madeleine rested, Claude and Luc led a caravan to the home of Jean-Pierre Perreault, who had turned his spotless garage into a shrine to Luc’s career. Luc laughed at a poster of his younger, mullet-haired self. “I never thought the Cup would be here,” Perreault said. “Thanks to Luc it is here.”
After a stop at La Princesse restaurant for poutine — a Quebec specialty concocted of french fries, gravy and cheese curds — Robitaille went to a fire station and climbed aboard a truck for a short parade to the local community center. He was greeted by Mayor Ghislain Caouette, who read a proclamation and unveiled a painting that will be displayed there to commemorate the occasion.
“It is a privilege to share in this celebration for the Stanley Cup,” Caouette said.
A line stretched outside in the sunshine for several hours, perhaps 400 people who came to see Robitaille and pose for photos with him and with the Cup. “It’s a grand event,” said Richard Gamache, a former mayor of Norbertville. “I have never seen it before. It’s a great celebration and I am very proud of our community.”
Robitaille was constantly being tapped on the shoulder, tugged on the arm, hugged and kissed, and he obliged every request. Claude had to replenish the photo supply to satisfy the demand.
Winning the Cup as an executive felt different to Robitaille from when he had won as a player. “Now you realize how much more people it touches,” he said. “I walked in with the Cup and everyone wanted to touch it. It was a religious thing. Kids would touch it gently. People would pat it.”
They brought cards, jerseys and miniature Cups for him to sign. Pablo Desrosiers of Drummondville brought a wood replica of the Cup he had spent 140 hours fashioning out of maple and walnut. He finished sanding it only Tuesday night and was delighted that Robitaille autographed it for an eventual charity auction. “I’m so happy to be here,” Desrosiers said. “It’s something big here, that’s for sure.”
Robitaille’s day with the Cup ended with a private dinner in the wood-paneled dining room of the Spa Nordique Lac Bijou, an evening of easy warmth and laughter. While the Cup sat alone at a table for four in the center of the room, Luc made a short speech and his son, Jesse — known professionally as Jessarae — played guitar and sang. Claude, Madeleine and Luc Robitaille moved among the tables to greet guests and make everyone feel welcome. “She looks good,” Luc said. “She said she had to get a new outfit for the Cup.”
By 10 p.m. his long-awaited day was over. Cup keepers Walt Neubrand and Howie Borrow carefully packed it for the drive back to Montreal to spend a few hours Thursday with Kings scout Denis Fugere before delivering it to engraver Louise St-Jacques. “It was a good day,” Claude Robitaille said. And a precious gift.