Resilient Roberts Shines for Toronto.(SPORTS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

Resilient Roberts Shines for Toronto.(SPORTS)


Byline: Dave Fay, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A few years ago the Washington Capitals were trying to add character players up front, especially on the left side. One player under serious consideration was Gary Roberts of Calgary but it was decided his health was such a risk that it wasn't worth the gamble.

Roberts has the last laugh. Four years after being forced into early and, as it turned out, temporary retirement by neck and spine injuries, Roberts is playing and starring for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference finals against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Not only is he Toronto's leading scorer (7 goals, 19 points), he leads the league in playoff penalty minutes with 56 despite missing the Maple Leafs' playoff opener with a torn rib muscle.

But this is a tough playoff series for the left wing, who just turned 36. When few others in the league wanted to take a chance on a man with neck and spine injuries, the Hurricanes went out and traded for him and he played in North Carolina for three seasons, adding character and experience to a young roster, teaching it what price was necessary to pay in order to win.

"He was very good for us the years he was here," said Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford, whose close relationship with Roberts is being tested by the wing's play against his club. "We tried to add character guys; Gary Roberts was one of them."

How did he end up playing for his hometown Leafs? "It wasn't financial," said Rutherford, "he made a personal decision."

The decision Roberts made, he acknowledges, was to play for a team he thought had a better shot at winning a Stanley Cup than he figured the always rebuilding Hurricanes did. Now he is fighting tooth and nail against a group of guys he became very close to.

That is probably one of the reasons Roberts has gone on a crusade against Eric Cole, a budding Carolina star but still a rookie. Roberts can go against him with a clear mind - Cole is new to the roster. Roberts didn't know him when he was a Hurricane.

And go after him Roberts has. It seems every time Cole is on the ice, Roberts also appears. It is therefore significant that Cole, who was one of the 'Canes' top offensive producers in Carolina's first two playoff series - he scored half of the team's first 12 goals - has gone without a goal against Toronto. The same holds true for Cole's linemates, Bates Battaglia and Rod Brind'Amour. …

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