It's Roberts vs. Chelios

Who knows what to expect from either Chris Chelios or Gary Roberts, other than heart and...

Who knows what to expect from either Chris Chelios or Gary Roberts, other than heart and experience? SUN MEDIA PHOTOS

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Every 20 years or so -- or in this case 19 -- Gary Roberts and Chris Chelios play against each other for the Stanley Cup.

It happens about as often as all-Canadian final, which it happened to be when Roberts and Chelios met for the Cup in 1989.

For Chelios, this really is nothing new. He has rings older than Evgeni Malkin and trips to the final with Montreal and Chicago in '89 and 1992, and of course, a Cup ring from the Red Wings six years ago.

But for Roberts, this wait has almost been forever. From the time he won his first and only professional championship, so much has happened. He has been an all-star, had his career ended by injury, made a remarkable comeback, lived through two lockouts, almost carried the Maple Leafs to a Cup final, changed his life with a second marriage and second family, signed as a free agent in Florida and was traded to Pittsburgh at the deadline one year ago.

He won a Cup in his second full season in Calgary; He has not played for one since.

And now, as this dream series is about to begin, a pair of ancient dreamers wonder what role they will play.

Roberts, the 41-year-old workout freak, can't seem to stay healthy. He missed most of the season with injuries. He missed the final games of the series with Philadelphia with pneumonia. When he has played in the past few seasons, as he demonstrated in the opening games of the playoffs against Ottawa, he has played well, with energy and his traditional anger. The problem has been he hasn't played often enough.

The story with Chelios hasn't been the same. He has been, until a game or two ago, an ageless wonder. He is 46 years old and has been taking a regular shift with the best team in hockey. He is so instinctive and so able to play on defensive intellect that his deficiencies of age have mostly been compensated for.

Only they began to show against Dallas in the Western Conference final. And for Game 6, Chelios was not-so-mysteriously sat out by the Wings. They said he was injured. Maybe he was. But maybe this was their way of benching him without it taking on a media life of its own.

Should it continue in the first games of the Stanley Cup final, without evidence of Chelios being hurt, it will become a story. Unlike Roberts, Chelios is a first-ballot Hall of Fame defenceman. He is, or has been, expected to be a staple for the Wings.

But this is a Stanley Cup final about kids and about speed.

Malkin is 21, Sidney Crosby is 20, Jordan Staal is just 19. Those are the centres for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The fourth line centre, the ancient Maxime Talbot -- Roberts' centreman, should he play -- happens to be 24. These are Roberts' teammates; Half his team is old enough to date his teenaged daughter.

The scoring stars in red and white are Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen (assuming he can play) and Jiri Hudler. Datsyuk, the oldest of that group, was 10 years old when the Flames beat the Montreal Canadiens in the last all-Canadian final in 1989.

AGELESS WONDERS

How long ago was that in hockey time?

Cliff Fletcher was managing the Flames and Bob Gainey was playing for the Habs. The stars for Calgary -- Doug Gilmour, Al MacInnis, Joey Mullen, Joe Nieuwendyk -- all worked as coaches or executives with NHL teams this past winter. Guy Carbonneau, then a Hab, now is Montreal's head coach. Petr Svoboda, then a defenceman, now is Pavel Kubina's agent. Patrick Roy, then a goalie, now is father of a fighting goalie.

Chelios, then a defenceman, is still a defenceman. And Roberts, then a robust scoring winger, is more robust than offensive when he plays these days.

There are, actually, three 40-year-old legends of sorts on these Stanley Cup rosters, just none of them expected to make much of a difference. Dominik Hasek, the greatest statistical goalie in history, sits on the bench for Detroit as the mysterious Chris Osgood plays for the Wings. Hasek isn't expected to start a game in the final.

And who knows, as this series begins, what to expect from either Roberts or Chelios, other than heart and experience? This much we know: One of them is assured a championship ring.


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