The End of an Era of Excellence: Gary Roberts Announces Retirement from NHL

WoooooSenior Writer IMarch 10, 2009


Those five letters have become much more than a catchy slogan or a witty show of fan support for a professional athlete.

"What Would Gary Roberts Do?" has become a nigh-unfallible problem-solving philosophy.

Alright, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little, but when you talk about the epitome of a professional hockey player, you talk about Gary Roberts.

Integrity, passion, desire, work ethic, skill, knowledge, leadership, intimidation, and grit all packaged into the body of a 42-year-old, 22-year veteran of the National Hockey League.

And now, like all good things, Roberts' career is coming to an end.

I would like to take the time to look back at the illustrious career of one of the most passionate, dedicated, and feared players to ever play the game.

Gary Roberts was drafted by the Calgary Flames (12th overall) in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He split time during the '86-'87 season between the Flames and their AHL club in Moncton. 

The following season, Roberts became a staple in the Flames' lineup, playing in 74 games and collecting 28 points and 282 penalty minutes. During the 1988-89 campaign, Roberts played 71 games with the Flames, recording 38 points and 250 penalty minutes, and showed his "true grit" in the Playoffs.

Roberts registered 12 points in 22 postseason games, including a five-game point streak, as he played an essential role in helping the Flames win the Stanley Cup.

The 1990-91 season would be the best of Roberts' career. He registered 90 points (53 G, 37 A) while ranking first in the NHL in shooting percentage. 

Roberts finished third in the points race that season and became only the second player in the history of the league to score 50 goals and record 200 penalty minutes in one season.

But over the course of the next four seasons, Roberts would miss nearly 200 games due to injuries before retiring from the league after the 1995-96 season due to a neck injury.

Roberts won the Bill Masterson Trophy, which is awarded to "the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey," during the '95-'96 season,

Few people questioned whether Roberts would return, considering that his production had faltered somewhat and that his persistent injuries brought about questions of him playing a full season again.

Gary Roberts silenced the critics by returning to the ice for the 1997-98 season with the Carolina Hurricanes. He played in 61 games but missed 20 due to injury. He notched his 11th career hat trick and played in his 600th NHL game in that campaign.

Roberts would play two more full seasons with the 'Canes before signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2000-01 season. 

Roberts then proceeded to lead the Leafs in goals, plus/minus, and hits while leading the NHL in shooting percentage. Roberts played in all 11 Playoff games for the Leafs that year, registering 11 points and leading the team in assists. 

It seemed that Gary Roberts had found a new home in Toronto, where he quickly became a fan favorite.

On December 6, 2001, with a hat trick against the Canadiens, Roberts became only the sixth player in NHL history to score 350 goals and accumulate 2,000 penalty minutes. 

Roberts missed the final 10 games of the 2001-02 regular season due to injury, but returned for the postseason and continued to dominate, registering 19 points in 19 games. But then, offseason shoulder surgery would cause Gary to miss the first 57 games of the following season.

The 2003-2004 campaign would prove to be even more memorable than Roberts' previous 16.

He was voted to play in his third NHL All-Star Game and played in his 1,000 career game during this season. However, Gary would elect to sit out yet another full season in 2004-05 due to injuries and personal reasons.

Roberts returned to the ice again in 2005 with the Florida Panthers. In his only full season with the Panthers, Roberts served as an assistant captain, recorded his 400th career goal, and played his 18th tour in the league.

Then, it happened: February 27, 2007. 

The Pittsburgh Penguins' General Manager Ray Shero announced that the Penguins had acquired LW Gary Roberts at the trade deadline in exchange for D Noah Welch.

Penguins fans who had watched Roberts play against their team earlier in the season knew that he was a force to be reckoned with on the ice. Still, a lot of uncertainty surrounded the trade, as people were unsure if giving up a top young defensive prospect for a guy who was nearing the end of his career was a smart move. 

Oh, were the naysayers proved wrong.

Roberts would play 19 games in the regular season for the Pens, recording 13 points and playing some of the most motivated hockey that we had ever seen. 

Roberts' presence on the ice was something Pens fans hadn't experienced since the Samuelsson brothers occupied the blue line in the early 90's.

Though the Penguins' early Playoff exit was disappointing, Roberts was not. He registered four points in the five-game series, and at times looked like a one-man wrecking crew on the fore-check against a much bigger Ottawa team.

Roberts played in 38 games for the Pens the following season before suffering an injury in late December that kept him out of the lineup until the final game of the campaign.

Roberts returned to the ice and played an integral role in leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals. He racked up four points and 32 penalty minutes during the postseason run but saw his dreams of a second Stanley Cup Championship go by the wayside.

During the offseason, Roberts was shipped to Tampa Bay with fellow Penguin Ryan Malone.

Injuries once again forced Roberts to miss much of the season with the Bolts. He appeared in just 30 games, totaling seven points and 27 penalty minutes.

Roberts was placed on waivers by Tampa at this year's trade deadline. He cleared the wire without garnering much attention from any of the other 29 NHL teams.

Rather than returning to the minors to continue playing hockey until next season, Gary Roberts has announced that he will retire from professional hockey, this time for good.

Gary Roberts has become one of the most respected players in the National Hockey League. During his 22 NHL seasons, Roberts has registered 909 points (438 G, 471 A) and 2,560 penalty minutes. 

Even more impressive are his Playoff statistics: 93 points (32 G, 61 A) and 332 PIM in 130 games.

Gary Roberts has become a role model not only to his teammates, but to fans everywhere as well. 

A popular catchphrase of the 1990's was "W.W.J.D.?" (What Would Jesus Do?). These four simple letters challenged Christians to stop and think what Jesus would do in any certain situation or predicament that they might encounter. 

Penguin fans took this catchphrase to a whole new level. What resulted were t-shirts, wristbands, posters, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers, all displaying "W.W.G.R.D.?" 

"What Would Gary Roberts Do?" became a secret code of sorts, setting Pens fans apart from fans of other teams across the league. 

I still have people come up to me when I'm sporting the W.W.G.R.D. t-shirt and ask, "What is that supposed to mean?", "Are you making fun of Jesus?", or "Why won't you tell me?"

All I can do is smile, knowing that it's just a Penguins thing, they really wouldn't understand.

Besides the physical on-ice presence that Gary Roberts brings to a team, his work ethic off the ice is just as important. 

A team as young as the Pittsburgh Penguins could never have too many role models in the locker room. 

Veteran leaders like Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin, and Hal Gill help, but none matched Gary Roberts. 

Roberts' dedication to conditioning and his strict vegetarian diet have helped him to keep up (or ahead) with guys that are barely half his age. 

Simply put, Gary Roberts has been nothing but a class act, on and off the ice, throughout his professional hockey career. 

He epitomized the qualities of dedication, leadership, work ethic, and determination, qualities that the Steel City holds near and dear to its heart. 

Gary Roberts, who will turn 43 years old in May, certainly had a Hall of Fame career in the NHL, and should be honored as nothing less than a hockey icon.

We all knew this day would come, and we all knew it would be hard to think about the NHL without thinking about Gary Roberts.

The time has come. So here's to you, Mr. Roberts.

Thank you for everything you have done for the great sport of hockey.

Thank you for reminding the city of Pittsburgh what "Old Time Hockey" is all about.

Thank you for your passion, your dedication, and your determination.

Thank you for showing us that age is nothing more than a number.

Thank you for leading our young group of Penguins to places they had never been before, and reminding them that they may never be there again.

But most importantly, thank you for being one of the scariest sons-a-bitches to ever lace up a pair of skates.

Good luck, and best wishes to you and your family as you prepare to enjoy your retirement years, while looking back on one of the greatest professional careers that sports has ever known.

W.W.G.R.D.? Live in our minds, our hearts, and our spirits, forever.


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