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Roberts back in the swing of things

Saturday, 15.02.2003 / 12:00 AM / News
Toronto Maple Leafs
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Roberts back in the swing of things
by John McCauley

TORONTO -- It took Gary Roberts less than a minute to find his first victim.

Unsuspecting rookie Josh Langfield was innocently retrieving the puck to the right of his own net when Roberts unleashed what nine months of agony and rehab built up.

Gary Roberts found himself back at home in front of the net.
Graig Abel Photography
The Leafs' 2002 playoff hero made his season debut after two offseason shoulder surgeries. It was clear from his opening shift nothing was going to change, not his style of play, not his fearless attitude, nothing.

Facing the team that Roberts helped dismantle last year, the Ottawa Senators, the fans were getting their first opportunity to thank Roberts. He received a loud ovation when he was announced as a starter and was cheered on every hit. He had at least five on the evening.

"It was just fun being out there," Roberts said. "To throw a few checks was nice. A few times I got caught standing still."

Toronto was able to ride the emotion of the evening to a solid 2-1 victory over the Sens, who have the best record in the NHL at the moment. Roberts was happy with the win and his performance.

"I didn't want to sit in the penalty box and I didn't want to get scored on, so I accomplished my goals," Roberts said.

Roberts was inserted on a line with Mats Sundin and Alex Mogilny, his first game since May 28, 2002 the day Carolina eliminated the Leafs in the Eastern Conference Final. The loss was bitter disappointment for Roberts, who was playing through enough pain to sideline the toughest of tough.

Little did he know that soon after, there was more pain to come.

Two surgeries, one on both shoulders, wich amounted to six individual procedures, kept Roberts in arms slings most of the summer and he wondered if he would play hockey again. Now that those doubts have been cast aside and he wants to remain a Leaf, meaning signing a contract extension, but no deal has been done with the 37 year-old.

"There is no deal yet. Gary's agent is in Europe. There is nothing to announce right now," said Bill Watters, the Maple Leafs' executive.

TSN and Sportsnet reported Saturday that Roberts had agreed on a one-year contract extension. Roberts is due to become a unrestricted free agent July 1. Roberts did say that things were going well and that he was positive about the situation.

Pat Quinn knows how good Roberts is, but even he was surprised his debut.

"He made a couple good plays, but it was better than I expected. He was working on adrenaline," Quinn said. "We watched him pretty close so that we wouldn't tax him."

Roberts managed 18:44 of ice time. He really didn't think he was going to get that much.

"So much for easing my way into it," Roberts said with a smile. "I could hardly catch my breath out there."

He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
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