The latest member of FlamesNation’s All-Time Team is the ninth player named to the club, but he’s number 10 in your programs and your hearts – Gary Roberts.
One of the most prolific, gritty and versatile forwards in Calgary Flames history, Roberts was a rock on the left side for the Flames during some of the team’s best years. Even as his body seemingly broke down due to injury in his later years, Roberts remained a productive player and a consummate professional.
Outside of Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, Roberts may be the best Flames player to not yet have his jersey number honoured (or retired) by the team.
Roberts joined the Flames in the 1984 NHL Draft, chosen in the first round in Calgary’s best draft ever – they chose Paul Ranheim, Brett Hull, Jiri Hrdina and Gary Suter after him. He went pro in 1986-87, splitting his first year between the big club and the farm team in Moncton. After that first season, he seemed to figure out a way to stay on the roster of a deep Flames club: he was a battering ram. He amassed 200+ penalty minutes in each of his first five seasons in the league. He also managed to become a pretty decent power forward, scoring 20+ goals seven times during his stint in Calgary – including a stellar 53-goal performance in 1991-92 while playing on a line with Joe Nieuwendyk and Theoren Fleury.
The style of play eventually caught up with Roberts, and he played just 43 games between 1994-95 and 1995-96 due to a serious neck injury. He actually retired in the summer of 1996 and missed the entire 1996-97 season before returning. In a classy move, with a mind towards moving him east where the travel schedule wasn’t as hellish (and would be better for his health), the Flames traded Roberts to the Carolina Hurricanes prior to the 1997-98 season in a deal that brought Andrew Cassels and J.S. Giguere to town.
- 9th in All-Time Flames Games Played (585)
- 8th in All-Time Flames Points (505)
- 4th in All-Time Flames Goals (257)
- 12th in All-Time Flames Assists (248)
- 2nd in All-Time Flames Penalty Minutes (1736)
Gary Roberts was a rare animal in the National Hockey League – a player that was equal parts finesse and brute force. And when the brute force part of his game took its toll on him, he ended up being able to adapt and remain a useful NHLer for years after a significant injury.
In terms of the Flames, Roberts was both one of the team’s most dangerous natural goal-scorers and one of its most feared physical competitors. If you were the opposition, you didn’t know if he was going to drive the net or drive your best player through the boards. He added a completely novel element to the Flames attack, and provided a great deal of protection (and some offensive options) for his teammates at the same time.