Although he was too small to make a major impact at the National Hockey League level, Robbie Ftorek is a legend in Massachusetts where he starred in high school hockey. He is also a legend of the biggest major league outside of the NHL in the World Hockey Association.
Although stats are hard to come by, stories of Robbie's days at Needham High School are plentiful. One such story recently was remembered in the Boston Globe newspaper article:
They packed the place. A winter night in 1970. Ridge Arena in Braintree. People stuffed in every corner, filling the balcony.
They came to see Robbie Ftorek play hockey.
It was the 16th game of a perfect season for Needham High School, the defending state champions. Walpole, led by defenseman Mike Milbury, was the opponent. Walpole was the only team to beat Needham the previous season and the rink was rocking.
With about a minute and a half left in the game, Walpole scored to take a 3-1 lead. The Rebel bench exploded, players jumping onto the ice to celebrate, throwing their gloves into the air and into the stands.
In the minutes it took to restore order, Ftorek skated back to the goal to talk to his dejected sophomore goalie Cap Raeder.
''How many you want?'' he said.
''Huh?'' said Raeder.
''How many do you want?'' Ftorek repeated, jabbing his finger into Raeder's chest.
''Just get enough to win.''
In 52 seconds, Ftorek and his mates scored four goals, the last into an empty net, to pull off a miraculous victory. They went on to repeat as state champions and post an undefeated season.
Magical is a good word to describe the highly skilled Ftorek. With his hockey stick as his wand, Ftorek carved out a reputation as an electrifying skater, a wonderful puck carrier, and an absolute wizard of a playmaker. He could also almost score at will, although he loved to set up a teammate for a picture-perfect goal even more so.''It was like magic,'' said Raeder, now a scout for the San Jose Sharks.
Ftorek went on to play hockey at higher levels once he graduated from high school. He spent a year playing Canadian junior hockey in Halifax, he joining the US national team. With the Nats Ftorek competed in the World Championships where he was an All Star scoring 7 goals and 10 points in 6 games. More importantly, Ftorek also got a chance to play with the 1972 US Olympic team. He chipped in 2 assists in 6 games, helping the Americans win a silver medal in Sapporo, Japan.
After the Olympics, he signed with the Detroit organization and played for Virginia of the AHL. He played two strong seasons with the Va. Wings, averaging a point a game. He also got a couple of brief callups to the NHL. He played in 15 NHL games over those two seasons, and scored 2 goals and 5 assists.
He jumped to the Phoenix Roadrunners of the fledgling World Hockey Association in 1974. It was a great career move for Ftorek. He had no idea just how much success he'd achieve with the upstart league, but he got a big pay raise from his minor league salary and got to play with some much more talented players.
Robbie achieved some dizzying numbers in the WHA. In total he scored 216 goals and 307 assists for 523 points in just 373 games. He spent the first three years in the WHA with the Roadrunners, scoring 68, 113 and a career-high 117 points respectively. The Roadrunners folded in 1976 and Ftorek move on to Cincinnati where he continued to light up the scoreboard. In 1977-78 he scored a career high 59 goals along with 50 assists for 109 points. He followed that up with his best season in the WHA. He scored 116 points, just one shy of his personal best, but more importantly was named the league MVP.
Robbie finished his playing career as a part time player with the New York Rangers, occasionally seeing time in the minor leagues. He finished his career with 77 goals, 150 assists and 227 points in 334 NHL games.
A great student of the game, Ftorek was a popular television commentator in his post-playing days. However he was better known as a coach in the minors and the NHL. He was the coach in Los Angeles when Wayne Gretzky first arrived. He later went on to coach the New Jersey Devils and, his career coming full circle, the Boston Bruins.