River Rats family fondly remembers Walter Robb

The Record-9 months before

Robb was a research pioneer at General Electric in Schenectady and well known for his generous philanthropy throughout the community. Additionally, he owned the old AHL Albany River Rats and AF2 Albany Conquest and Albany Firebirds.

“He really was the ultimate superfan when it came to our teams,” former River Rats President and CEO Garen Szablewski said.

“He got along with the fans and he was really in his element when he was there ringing his cowbell and enjoying the games right along with the fans. He really didn’t see himself as the owner of the team, he saw hims...lf as one of the fans and as such he really had a great time at the games,” Szablewski remarked on Robb’s shared passion with the fans for those teams.

Along with watching, Robb also loved to listen to the games, according to longtime River Rats radio broadcaster John Hennessey.

“One thing I remember was he couldn’t get the signal from the radio station in the arena. And he liked to listen to the games on the radio, so he had us set up this remote system within the arena so he could listen in his box. He used to sit up in a luxury box with his wife [Anne] and guests and whatnot,” Hennessey added, flattered the owner enjoyed listening to his calling of the game.

Robb had a true sense of pride in his community and his teams, even if it meant taking a hit financially.

“He saved hockey in the Capital District for a number of years when Mr. [Al] Lawrence had his legal problems,” Hennessey noted when Robb bought the team in 1998.

“Mr. Robb was there to step in and pick up the ball or the whole thing would’ve crashed and burned,” Hennessey added of Robb, who owned the team for 12 years.

Szablewski echoed those sentiments, stating how Robb truly wanted the community to have a team to share in and root for together.

“He was certainly a great guy to work for and he was a great asset to the community. He really did everything that he did relative to the River Rats and Conquest and then the Firebirds, for the community,” Szablewski noted of the community-oriented Robb.

“He was the kind of guy that really looked way beyond his own personal benefits and really everything that he did was based on what he felt was best for the community. I think he went into the ownership of the sports teams with open eyes and recognized that really in our community in the Capital District was never really going to be a moneymaker but he decided to move forward anyway and decided to do it with the best intentions,” Szablewski added of Robb’s selflessness.

Former River Rats broadcaster and Vice President of Communications, Jon Scherzer, spoke to Robb's energy and passion.

"Walt was an energetic, passionate person in all areas of his life. From his work at GE, to his time owning the River Rats he was always looking for new ideas, excited by the challenge and was always looking for new ways to do things. The amount of personal time, and funding support he gave the teams he owned was impressive and he was focused in keeping a high quality of life for the Capital Region," Scherzer said.

"I was also pleased he received a 2003 Stanley Cup ring because he cared so much about the team," Scherzer added.

In addition to the fans, there was a mutual affection between Robb, his staff, coaches and players.

“As terms of the relationship with the players and coaches that was also very very positive. He enjoyed his interactions with the coaches and players over the years. He really was very supportive. He would do things from time to time, have dinners and get-togethers with the team and he really enjoyed that as well,” Szablewski said.

One of those former players, fan-favorite Rob Pattison, who later worked as Director of Community Relations with the team, shared a fond memory of those get-togethers.

“[My] fondest memory of Mr. Robb is how gracious he and Mrs. Robb were to host the entire Rats organization at their home for a holiday party each year. It was a big deal for all of us and they both went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and appreciated,” Pattison remembered of the special celebrations.

Other reactions also poured in from around the hockey world with kind words for the late River Rats owner.

“In addition to being a pioneering innovator and philanthropist, Walter Robb was a lifelong hockey fan, and the American Hockey League was fortunate to be touched by his passion and leadership during his 12 years as owner of the Albany River Rats. The entire AHL offers its condolences to the Robb family on his passing.” AHL President and Chief Executive Officer David Andrews commented in a statement.

“He was such a kind man and an avid hockey enthusiast. My deepest condolences to his entire family,” Dallas Stars radio host, Owen Newkirk, who was a River Rats broadcaster from 2007-09, tweeted.

The ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder also tweeted their condolences, of Robb, who was among those in 2009 who helped convince the Philadelphia Phantoms owners to move their club up to Glens Falls for a handful of years, saying, “We are saddened to learn about the passing of longtime Albany River Rats owner Walter Robb.”

In 2009, the fledgling AF2 and Firebirds felt the aftershocks of the 2008 great recession. In 2010, Robb was unable to find another local buyer to step up and keep the team here, ultimately having to sell the club, which moved to Charlotte, N.C.

Yet, when the New Jersey Devils brought their AHL affiliate back to Albany, from Lowell, Mass. in 2010, Robb did the best he could in helping it succeed by sharing season ticket holder, group ticket and corporate sponsorship information with the Albany Devils.

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