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Gary Roberts embodied the perfect mix of skill and truculence

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

They are the best of the best in Calgary Flames history.

Over 24 days we will profile our All-Time All-Stars (listed alphabetically at each position). Make sure to check back daily to see who's getting the nod.

May 8 - Theoren Fleury (RW)

May 9 - Jarome Iginla (RW)

May 10 - Hakan Loob (RW)

May 11 - Lanny McDonald (RW)

May 12 - Joey Mullen (RW)

May 13 - Doug Gilmour (C)

May 14 - Joe Nieuwendyk (C)

May 15 - Kent Nilsson (C)

May 16 - Joel Otto (C)

May 17 - Craig Conroy (C)

May 18 - Johnny Gaudreau (LW)

May 19 - Jim Peplinski (LW)

May 20-22 - Left-wingers

May 23-28 - Defencemen

May 29-31 - Goaltenders

Today, it's the one and only Gary Roberts, the player that embodied the perfect mix of skill and truculence

Although he had no inking at the time, the final fixture - Point No. 1,224 of a 22-season career punctuated by stubborn resilience - would fall on a visit to the Saddledome.

Nine days later, Gary Roberts announced his retirement.

A lovely symmetry, then, to be back in the old neighborhood, where he in essence grew up as a player, for the chance to say goodbye.

Even if outfitted in Tampa Bay Lightning garb.

"You know what,'' he'd reflect later, "every time I came to Calgary I (took) a second to peek my head in and look at the team photo on the wall and reflect on the great memories I had there, the teammates that I played with.

"Calgary's got a big place in my heart. Obviously, winning a Stanley Cup there is my best hockey memory.

"If it was going to end that way, it's nice that it ended where I won a Stanley Cup."

Among the lexicon of Flames' greats, what sets Roberts apart is an almost visceral competitiveness. Never mind that he wasn't blessed with buddy Joe Nieuwendyk's Charmin-soft hands, Al MacInnis's bone-deadening slapshot or Doug Gilmour's slick sensibility with a pass. 

Roberts could play, but it was wise not to play him. He carried an edge of unpredictability, of menace, that permeated every shift.

All these years later, he still ranks eighth in franchise career scoring, tops among left-wingers, with 505 points while accruing the second-most penalty minutes, 1,736.

In many ways, Roberts' 1991-92 campaign ranks near the summit of individual franchise showpieces: 53 goals, second highest stockpile ever, to go along with 207 PIMs.

A sublime blend of truculence and touch.

Not that that season should be considered anything close to a one-off. In others, he'd contribute 39, 38 and 41 goals to the cause.

Whatever it took. The big goal. The tide-turning hit. Or fighting out of his weight class (his toe-to-toe tilt against Mark Messier at centre ice at the Saddledome remains an indelible moment).

Many Flames' partisans have likely forgotten that Roberts is also responsible for one of the vital tallies of the '89 Cup run, stuffing the puck past L.A.'s Kelly Hrudey to tie Game 1 of the Smythe Division 3-3 at 18:14 of the third period on home ice.

Gilmour went on to decide that game in OT, giving the Flames a leg up in the series and quite likely saving them a repeat of the overwhelming angst that quickly built up in a far-too-taxing seven-game slog against the Vancouver Canucks in Round 1.

Over the course of his career, Roberts would overcome a serious neck injury, also suiting up for Carolina, Toronto, Florida, Pittsburgh and the Lightning.

Here in Calgary, though, is where he made his name, left his mark, got his ring.

"I remember Lanny, Pep and Hunts going up to get the Stanley Cup (at the old Montreal Forum),'' Roberts reminisced of May 25, 1989. "We couldn't believe how old Lanny looked, right? He was only 36. We were 23. I said: 'How many more of these are we going to win?' to Nieuwy.

"He was all teared up, emotional.

"Maybe I jinxed myself. I went on to play almost 20 more years. Retired just before my 43rd birthday.

"I never won another Stanley Cup."

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