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ATTA BOY, ROBBIE!...By Bookiekiller`s "Rinkrat"

Athletes are public people, their triumphs, failures, personal shenanigans, and vapid opinions are what fills the yawning broadcast schedule for television cable sports channels.

National Hockey League followers are well versed on Mario`s hip, Brett`s goal-scoring records, not to mention Martin`s divorce and Mike`s hold-out.

We wept tears of joy when Raymond won that Stanley Cup, which he was entitled to, because he`d played longer than Bill Gadsby without one; sad tears for Dan`s and Keith`s families. Outstanding achievements, records, scoring titles, Stanley Cups - we know the lot.

Away from the spotlight small successes abound, personal highlights, career peaks, testimonies to persistence, noticed only by family and friends, never acknowledged by those egotistical blowhards who read sports news on TV.

Which brings us to today`s small triumph: Rob Skrlac. Skrlac`s hockey career has, from the time he was in junior, been a couple of vowels short of star power. Drafted by Buffalo in 1995, he signed in 1997 with New Jersey Devils. He was plunked in the minors and stayed there. Seven years he plugged away, scoring four goals in 305 games; some years he barely put one shot on net. Last season, in which he poured two pucks into opposition nets, he had nine shots. Good shooting percentage, not enough shots.

His worth to a team was his willingness to fight. Three seasons with the powerhouse Kamloops Blazers of the Western junior league his line read: 147 games played, 9 goals, 671 penalty minutes. He`s second on Albany`s all-time penalty list. Albany is Jersey`s top farm team.

Skrlac is an engaging fellow. For a start he`s enormous - 6` 5" 245 pounds, and has a friendly disposition, which calms runts like the Rat. The Rat met him a couple of times in Kamloops - laughing, outgoing, seemed to not have a care in the world. One time he had teammates over and they critiqued one of his fights recorded on video. I remember one fellow commenting warmly on a thundering right hand. Skrlac was looking to improve his technique.

Then off to Albany. Seven years of thundering right hands, a couple of shots each season, perhaps a goal or two. People around Kamloops are surprised he didn`t pack in his career years ago. The American Hockey League might be the minors but the living is easy.

December 13/03 the inexplicable happened - he was called up. The Devils` web site has no picture of him, the stat page is nearly blank. That night he played 23 seconds against Philadelphia. Might have been epic if he`d tangled with Donald Brashear. On the sixteenth he was a healthy scratch, while on the nineteenth he dressed but didn`t play.

But the eighteenth, now that was a magical night. Playing against Atlanta he had one shift (:46), one shot, and one goal. He lit the lamp. Red-light Robbie. Better yet, his goal was the game winner in a 3-0 victory.

So, most of us know that Mario scored with his first shot on his first shift with Pittsburgh. Skrlac scored on his second shift, still his first shot. His shooting percentage is at the top of the table: 1.000. Every goal he`s scored in the NHL has been a game winner - who can make that claim?

Rob Skrlac did it - after 307 games he has an NHL goal. He will savour that moment - 8:50 of the second period, assists to Rasmussen and Stevens - for the rest of his life. Skrlac remains on the Devils` roster.

Well done Robbie; couldn`t happen to a nicer guy.

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