– There is a red, white and blue sign that hangs in Mellon Arena on game nights that reads "Gary Roberts for President."
In this town, Roberts could probably garner more than just a few votes.
"He is a cult hero," Pittsburgh native Ryan Malone told NHL.com Friday morning. "Have you ever heard some of the songs about him? He's a legend around here."
Roberts has been nearing legendary status ever since last year's trade deadline when he was shipped from Florida to Pittsburgh in exchange for defenseman Noah Welch. He said the fan appreciation is also the reason why he re-signed with the Penguins over the summer.
While his regular season didn't go as planned due to injuries and illnesses, Roberts never lost his fan-favorite status. He rewarded his 17,132 best friends with a hard-working, difference-making game Wednesday night in the Penguins' 3-2 victory.
Now that he's feeling the best he has in more than a year, the white-clad Roberts lovers that flood the old barn on top of the hill here in Pittsburgh should expect the same type of energy game from Roberts Saturday night in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).
Should he deliver one, the Penguins will be that much better for it.
"The fans have been really good to me here and I have really enjoyed my time here," Roberts said. "I haven't played tons of hockey this year, but now that I have my health back, I'm just trying to bring some energy and create some scoring chances for my linemates. At this point whatever you can contribute you try to contribute."
Roberts contributed plenty in his 8:45 of ice time Wednesday night. He was credited with five hits, but none bigger than the one he laid on Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja that led to Adam Hall's game-winning goal in the third period.
Roberts trailed Lilja into the corner and buried him. Maxime Talbot dug the puck out and fed it to the middle where Hall was. Hall banked it off the left side of the net, re-gathered the puck behind the goal and fired it in off of Chris Osgood's rear-end.
"Dirty Gary, huh?" Talbot said Thursday during a press conference, causing everyone in the room to break out in laughter. "It's awesome. I love when the crowd goes for Gary. He's a legend here, and it's obviously nice to have him on our side. I wouldn't want to play against this guy."
Roberts is a mild-mannered veteran off the ice. He never turns down an interview request and makes it a point to listen to the question and give an analytical answer instead of just a stock one.
But Talbot said on the ice Roberts is insanely intense.
"You look at him after a goal or something, during the celebration, and you look in his eyes and you're kind of scared," Talbot said. "You know, like, 'Oh my God, that guy's intense.' "
Malone believes the intensity and dogged work ethic is what has made Pittsburgh embrace this 42-year-old veteran.
"When he beat down some of the Philly guys, that definitely moved him up in the books," Malone said. "Pittsburgh is a blue-collar town with the hard workers and guys that are in your face that aren't afraid to drop the gloves. He represents the city well and I think that's why they love him."
Roberts appreciates the love-fest because he knows he's at the end of his playing career and this may very well be his chance to go out a winner. To have the backing of the fans has made it that much more special, and a bit embarrassing, too.
Roberts played in only 38 regular-season games thanks to a respiratory infection, a broken leg and other ailments. He has injured his groin and fought off a mild-case of pneumonia in the playoffs, which is why he's played in only eight of the Penguins' 17 games.
"It's flattering, but I must say a little embarrassing at times because I haven't been as big of a part of it this year as I would have liked," Roberts said. "I get a few jabs from my teammates, but it's all in fun. Right now I'm just trying to go out there and contribute in any way I can, whether it's a hit or making a play. However, much ice time I get I'm not really worried about that right now.
"Luckily the season has gone on as long as it has. It's given me an opportunity to get healthy and be a part of it again."
At this point, that's really all Roberts wanted anyway.
"I look at 1989 when we won the Cup and I look at guys like Lanny MacDonald, Jim Peplinski and Mark Hunter," Roberts said. "They were in and out of the lineup during that playoffs, but they were out there holding the Cup at the end of it as a big a part of it as anyone else was. That's what I'm trying to take out of this one, just be a part of it and take advantage of the opportunity because deep down I know this is probably the last time for me."
If it is, Pittsburgh's faithful are sending him out with the perfect salute.
"When I gave (Florida Panthers GM) Jacques Martin my list last year it included Toronto and Ottawa as two teams I would go to, but I'm obviously fairly happy it turned out like this," Roberts said. "I feel like I came to the place where I was supposed to be."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer