DETROIT -- The last time Bob Probert played in Canada?
"Oh, that's a tough one," the Detroit Red Wings forward said Monday afternoon while sitting on the boards at Joe Louis Arena. Probert rubbed his chin, then looked for an answer in the rows of empty seats. "You know," he said after a few seconds, "you could probably stump Mickey Redmond with that one."
The answer: Dec. 10, 1988, at Toronto.
Or three years and eight days ago.
So Probert should be used to this by now, staying behind whenever the Red Wings travel north of the border. He played by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service deportation rules last season, and he doesn't expect his appeal to be heard any time soon.
"That's the way it's going to be," he said, "and I've accepted it. So there's no reason thinking about it."
But the more Probert thinks about it . . .
"I just don't understand why I can't get a trial permit," he said, "why I just can't play a game and come right back. They could even escort me there and back. They keep telling me, 'We're getting closer; we're getting closer.' But it's been three years.
"Fourteen games in Canada doesn't sound like much, but sometimes it can seem like a lot."
Like now, for instance.
Probert didn't play Saturday in Calgary or Sunday in Edmonton or last night in Vancouver. And he won't play in Toronto on Dec. 28. Were it not for Saturday's game at Los Angeles, Probert's streak of non-playing days would reach 16.
"I'll just try to pick up where I left off, but it does seem a little bit strange," he said. "When you've been away for three straight games, you don't feel like you're part of the team."
For Probert, the next best thing is practicing with the Detroit Ambassadors, a Major Junior A team in the Ontario Hockey League. As he put it, "When you skate by yourself, you don't work as hard. Any kind of team skate is great. Plus, they've got some pretty good skaters."
Probert last skated with the Ambassadors in November, when the Red Wings played at Calgary. Early in a drill, coaches were getting on Jeff Kostuch for not skating hard enough. So Kostuch took his frustrations out on a player lingering by the boards.
Kostuch didn't know it was Probert until "I turned around and saw him getting up," he said. And Kostuch didn't take another breath "until I saw him smile." At that point, Kostuch said, "My heartbeat began to slow down a little bit."
Probert also has provided a lesson in work ethic.
"That's the impressive thing to me," Ambassadors coach Jimmy Rutherford said. "Here's an established NHL player, a guy with a long contract. He could come to our practices and just float. But he works as hard as anybody on the ice, and it's great for our guys to see that."
What the Ambassadors haven't seen is Probert's off-the-ice conditioning program. Before Red Wings trainer John Wharton left for Calgary, he gave Probert a two-hour workout program that featured weight lifting and stationary-bike rides. The program called for Saturday and Monday sessions; Probert included Sunday, his day off.
"That's the most important thing," Probert said. "When I'm not with the team, I have to work that much harder."
On his patience, especially.
Watching his teammates on television isn't easy, "but it helps when they get up by a few goals," Probert said, referring to the Red Wings' 4-1 victory over the Oilers. And even the victories aren't a cure-all.