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Work Ethic Hasn't Changed for Veteran Roberts

by Chris Errington / Tampa Bay Lightning

Gary Roberts knows the time is coming. After playing more than 1,200 games and earning 900 points in a 21-year career he doesn’t attempt to hide that fact. But unlike many of those who have retired before him in hockey or any other sport, he’s making sure an illustrious career ends on his terms.

Roberts, despite missing 33 games due to injury in this his one and only season in Tampa Bay, knows he may no longer be the player he once was while starring with Calgary, but he’s embraced his new role with the same zeal he had in helping the Flames win the Stanley Cup many seasons ago.

“I want to play the style of game I’ve played my whole career and when you get to be 42 years old, it’s tougher to be that aggressive,” Roberts said. “I came here knowing I have an opportunity to work with a great young player. If I have one thing to leave for my time here in Tampa, it’s to have an influence on a guy like [Steven] Stamkos.”

Roberts, the veteran, and Stamkos, the No. 1 overall draft pick, can be found speaking together about the subtleties of the game - a tidbit discussed here, a tactic there. Anything to improve the productivity and longevity of what Tampa Bay hopes will be its marquee player in seasons to come. While Stamkos will reap the rewards of 21 seasons of National Hockey League knowledge, it’s a scenario in which Roberts is well versed. For him, it wasn’t too long ago that he was the rookie learning from the cagey veteran.

“The game’s changed and guys have changed, but what hasn’t changed is how veterans try to teach younger guys,” Roberts said. “That’s how I was treated as a young guy by Lanny McDonald. He had the biggest influence on me and Joe Nieuwendyk.”

If everyone played the way he does, coaches wouldn’t have any problems. - Mark Recchi
Nieuwendyk, who completed his 21-year career with more than 1,200 games played and 1,100 points last season, and Roberts were third-year veterans when Calgary won the Stanley Cup during the 1989-90 season. It may be no surprise that the duo was directly responsible for capping the best season in Flames’ history. Roberts registered a five-game point streak during the 22-game playoff run, finishing with five goals and seven assists as Calgary dispatched Montreal in six games to take the Cup.

Roberts fondly recalls that memorable playoff run, but he’s still cognizant of the present. In the final home game before a last Lightning West Coast trip, which concludes with a farewell stop in Calgary, the veteran played more than 11 minutes during his 17 shifts. However, what he may best be remembered for during a thrilling 4-3 victory over East-leading Boston was a fight in which he dominated the Bruins’ Mark Stuart during the first period. Roberts said the altercation, his first since Dec. 2007, was in retaliation for some hard hits Stuart delivered to teammates, including a run at Stamkos. For fellow veteran Mark Recchi, it was the epitome of what Roberts is all about on and off the ice.

“Everyone should play that way,” Recchi said, “because Gary plays the game the right way. If everyone played the way he does, coaches wouldn’t have any problems.”

If the fight, which brought a huge ovation from the fans at the St. Pete Times Forum, was meant to send a message to the Bruins or teammates isn’t clear. What is clear however, is Roberts’ contributions to a team that possesses a mixture of veterans, stars and younger players. For Interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet, who’s preached to his team all season for the need for players to “step up” their play to another level and find a reason to continue playing hard despite the Lightning’s place in the standings, Roberts could be the prime example.

“He’s going down swinging,” Tocchet said. “I don’t know how many games he has left, but he plays like every game means something. He truly believes that you play every game for something.”

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