by John McCauley
January 13, 2004
(TORONTO) -- Tom Fitzgerald and Gary Roberts share a lot of qualities, which made them valuable enough to experience their 1000th NHL games side-by-side.
For the first time in NHL history two players shared the distinctive honour and there may not be another two players who have worked as hard to get it.
| McCabe celebrates his second goal with Karel Pilar. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
Fitzgerald, known as a scorer in collage, quickly learned the best way for him to stay in the league was play good defence and kill penalties.
Roberts, also a scorer before turning pro, had the big league hands to pot pucks around the net and the physical style to intimidate opposition. It was a combination bound for success.
Neither believed they would ever reach the 1000 game plateau, but for different reasons.
Coming out of Providence in 1988, Fitzgerald had to beat the odds and earn respect because he didn't come from the Canadian Hockey League. Not easy to do, but he caught on with the Islanders and improved steadily until almost leading the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup in 1996. He was a finalist for the Selke trophy that year and from then on has had a reputation as a player that brings the intangibles.
Roberts on the other hand was the golden boy winning the Stanley Cup in his third NHL season, but he wasn't the picture of health you see today. Roberts got by on talent alone. Never lifted a weight and even junk food was on the menu. It wasn't until a neck injury put him out of hockey for two years and forced a new dedication to physical fitness that Roberts returned and continued his career to the fullest.
Both Leafs forwards were surrounded by family for an on-ice nice ceremony before to the Leafs 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames, Tuesday night.
Fitzgerald had his parents Sharon and Tom alongside his wife and four sons at centre ice. Roberts was joined by his parents Norma and Herb plus daughter Jordyn.
To go along with the loved ones there were a few gifts.
NHL representative Mike Murphy presented sculptures from Tiffany's to honour the milestone; Flames Captain Jarome Iginla presented Roberts with a limited edition print of Western Canada so he could remember the his time with the Flames; Mats Sundin and Joe Nieuwendyk represented the Leafs by giving each a photographic tribute of their time with Toronto ; Dads Tom and Herb gave their sons framed official game sheets from their first NHL games with a spot for the 1000th; Donations of 10,000 were also made to their favourite charities, Covenant House and the Asthma Society of Canada.
Even head coach Pat Quinn got in on the action by starting the evening with Fitzgerald and Roberts flanking Nieuwendyk, who is best friends with the assistant captain.
"It was nice of Pat to think of us," Roberts said. "To celebrate with my buddy Joe was nice. We've been through some good times and some bad together so it was great."
Even though the game itself was a little on the ugly side, Fitzgerald did manage to score on a turnover late in the third period to ensure the Leafs victory. Fitzgerald was humble after game even though he gave the puck to his father and was clearly thrilled with the outcome.
"It's been awhile since I scored, but the night would have been just as special if it was 3-1," Fitzgerald said.
Quinn, who prompted the veteran to get the puck after the goal, knows he'll be able to look back on this night with pride.
"That's got to be a thrill for him. 1000 games for a guy who lines up and plays every night is quite an accomplishment," Quinn said. "He's a humble sort of guy."