Leafs respect their elders

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

If 40 is the new 30 in the NHL, the Maple Leafs don't have a problem showing respect to some of their former elderly teammates.

Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk both have turned 40 since their most recent visits to the Air Canada Centre and their Florida Panthers teammate, Ed Belfour, turned 41.

"I don't think you can measure what they have accomplished in their careers," Darcy Tucker, 31, said when asked about Roberts and Nieuwendyk. "They are in a different, elite portion of the league. You just try to stay fit and healthy and hope you can have as long a career as they have."

The Leafs won't find out until today whether Belfour will be in goal tonight but they know what they will get with Roberts and Nieuwendyk. Neither has played for Toronto since the season prior to the lockout but they still resonate.

"It's unbelievable to see what they are doing at their age," Matt Stajan said. "Gary plays only one way and that is hard. Joe keeps putting up numbers. And Ed did so much extra stuff off the ice last year that you don't normally see to keep his body fit."

During the 1997-98 season under Paul Maurice, Roberts made his comeback to the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes after a severe neck injury. The 39-year-old Maurice yesterday said that Roberts, among others, was a major influence on the way he coaches today.

"My first years in Hartford (before the organization moved to North Carolina), we were big and fat and slow," Maurice said. "But (later) we had Gary and Rod Brind'Amour and Martin Gelinas, and those three guys set the standard for how our team was going to train and practise.

HOCKEY PHILOSOPHY

"It may have even shaped my philosophy more because they would practise so hard that I had to shorten practices.

"I would say Gary had a tremendous impact on the way I view the game and the fitness level."

The way Maurice sees it, Roberts and Nieuwendyk are among the few who had some things figured out long ago. Because they were ahead of the curve in some ways, being effective at 40 is not an issue.

"I don't think it is an age thing at all," Maurice said. "The game is now geared toward men who are fit and can skate and prepare themselves.

"There are 30-year-old guys in the league who will be gone in another year because they don't respect their bodies."


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