Sole Cup Survivor

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

Limping into the Saddledome to prepare for what likely will be his last stop here as a player, Gary Roberts peeked at the 1989 Stanley Cup team photo hanging outside the dressing room.

"Look at how skinny I was back then," said Roberts, whose then-23-year-old frame is nestled just behind Lanny McDonald, Joe Nieuwendyk and the Stanley Cup.

"A really bad beard -- that's for sure."

Surprised to find out that with the recent retirement of his old pal Nieuwy, he is now the last active player from the Flames' lone Cup-winning roster, the 40-year Panthers winger shakes his head in amazement.

"I definitely didn't think it would be me after retiring at age 30 for a year-and-a-half," said Roberts, whose 10-year association with the Flames ended in 1996 when neck surgery prompted an early retirement much like the one that forced Nieuwendyk to leave the game last month.

"I felt at first like I was retiring when I was at the peak of my career. When I came back, I didn't put a timeline on how long I'd play -- I really didn't know. Obviously, Calgary didn't think I had a chance at longevity and that's why they traded me. I'm proud, fortunate and, obviously, very thankful I'm still playing and that I got a second chance. Being the last player playing from the 1989 team is definitely special.

"In a way, it seems like yesterday. The memories are pretty clear on that Stanley Cup win."

Truth be told, it's those memories -- and Joe's three Stanley Cup rings -- that have him eyeing up a 20th season next fall.

"I'm in better shape now than I was when I was 30 and I think I have to be to play," said the former 50-goal scorer, one of the premier power forwards of his time.

"I'm definitely going to try to play next year and go from there. I'd still like to have one more chance at winning the Stanley Cup. My buddy Joe retired with three Cups, so I need to have at least two. Not sure I'll get that chance but would like to have one more shot."

Crediting Flames management and leaders such as Lanny McDonald for helping shape a career that has long been based around tremendous dedication to his fitness, Roberts is now smarter about listening to his body. Spending yesterday afternoon getting treatment for a hip flexor that prompted him to miss Tuesday's game in Edmonton, Roberts says he'll only play tonight if he can do so with the same pitbull style that is his trademark.

"I've never really been that healthy when I've been to Calgary over the years, so maybe it's a good thing I'm not here that often with the new schedule," said Roberts, who has 12 goals, 27 points and 59 penalty minutes in 41 games so far.

"Or maybe it's an omen that after all the great years I had in Calgary that I don't really want to play against my old team. We'll see -- hopefully I'm healthy enough to play. I'd love to come and play. The biggest part of my game is skating, forechecking and taking the body. If I'm not 100 percent, there's no point in (the fans) seeing me if I'm no good."

Flames fans can only hope they get a final shot at saying goodbye tonight.

"I'm not really counting the years -- just the days and enjoying every one of them," Roberts said.

"Might just get a few years out of this body yet."

Hopefully that skinny little body he threw around with such reckless abandon will take centre-stage tonight one final time.


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