TORONTO – Gary Roberts looked in the mirror one morning and didn’t like what he saw.
Staring back at him was a 30-year-old, retired and unhappy hockey player. It was at that moment he realized a change was needed.
It’s a decision that led him to not only a healthier life, but helped him resume his NHL career and play 11 more seasons.
Now, the 45-year-old passes on those same lifestyle choices and fitness routines to a younger generation.
Roberts trains current NHLers in the off-season and will take part in a mentorship program with 42 of the country’s top bantam-age players for the second straight summer.
But it wasn’t always like that. Roberts thought his career was over after the 1995-96 season—he was a former Stanley Cup champion with a serious neck injury and no future on the ice.
“I was at that point in my life where I was feeling sorry for myself and trying to get through life at 30 years old, going ‘Wow if I continue this lifestyle I’m not going to be a very healthy guy when I’m 40 or 50,'” Roberts said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
He says his initial goal wasn’t to resume his career, but to get his life back on track.
“I was 30 years old and saying ‘OK I don’t have to work out anymore and I don’t have to play hockey anymore and I can just have a good time,'” Roberts said. “I was having too good a time and just woke up one day and made a decision that I didn’t like that lifestyle very much and I changed it.”
Roberts, who played 10 seasons with Calgary and won the Cup in 1989, started by going to a chiropractor for his neck injury.
“I thought that I had done everything I could to prolong my career but realized that there was more information out there and more opinions out there,” Roberts said. “I started doing research and all of a sudden my neck got healthy and I was able to start training.
After a year off from the game, he returned to the ice 20 pounds heavier and an more able to play his rough style throughout a gruelling NHL season.
Roberts played 21 seasons in all with Calgary, Carolina, Toronto, Florida, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, recording 438 goals and 472 assists in 1224 games. He added 93 points (32-61) in 130 career playoff games.
Although his playing days are done, he now trains many current NHLers, including Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner, Stephen Weiss, Cody Hodgson and James Neal.
“I’m trying to get these young players that information on healthy nutrition, proper training, proper regeneration and giving them the tools,” said Roberts, who has also teamed up for the mentorship program for top bantam players put on by the NHLPA and All-State.
He hopes to start passing on information about health living to the youngsters at the camp, which runs from July 17-21 in Mississauga, Ont.
“At (14 and 15 years old) players are ready to start saying ‘OK if I want to be a hockey player, whether professionally or to get my education, I need to start paying more attention to the things I do away from the rink,'” Roberts said.
Some of the players at the camp may not know much about Roberts’ career, but they’ve definitely watched his star pupil.
Stamkos has trained with Roberts since the two played together in Tampa Bay during Stamkos’s rookie season.
The 22-year-old sniper spends his summer training with Roberts and scored 60 goals this season.
“I enjoy trying to get these players to just buy in. If they buy into just half of what I tell them, they’re going to be better off for it,” Roberts said. “You talk to these NHL players about the time we spend with them in the summer improving their overall game and a lot of it has to do with lifestyle choices.”
Skinner also works with Roberts and won the rookie of the year with the Carolina Hurricanes as an 18 year old.
“(Skinner) was one of the first guys that I know was eating healthy and living right at 14 and 15 and he won a rookie of the year at 18,” Roberts said. “When you put the whole package together—the training, the nutrition, the lifestyle with a guy with skill and ability, you get rookies of the year in the National Hockey League.
Although Roberts only trains hockey players, he says the lifestyle choices he preaches can apply to everyone.
He’s also living proof.
“Eat healthy and be active,” Roberts said. “If that’s all you have, it still goes a lot further than any other program that I’ve seen.”