The second installment of “Legends of the Game” is a 1992 interview between TSN’s Hockey Analyst Bob McKenzie and Hockey Superstar Gary Roberts printed in the 1993 fall issue of The Lacrosse News.
Here is the article in it’s entirety,
The Whitby Minor Lacrosse Association (WMLA) has developed some excellent talents, not the least of which are professional hockey players Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk of the Calgary Flames.
WMLA asked Toronto Star hockey columnist and TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie to interview Roberts and Nieuwendyk about their passion for the game they played so well as teens, culminating with a Minto Cup championship for Whitby in 1985.
Unfortunately, due to his damaged vocal chords, Nieuwendyk was not able to be interviewed, but McKenzie did conduct a phone interview with Roberts in early December.
The edited transcripts of that interview follow.
Incidently, McKenzie’s six-year old son played last season for the Roy’s Enterprise Paperweight Rep. team that went undefeated and his four-year old son is registering for Junior Paperweight House League this spring.
McKenzie: How did you start playing
Roberts: I was eleven years old and playing soccer at the time. Joe (Nieuwendyk) said to me, “Why are you playing that soccer? You should be playing lacrosse.” He said I would love it and he was right. So I didn’t really get into it until I was older, but it’s a game you can pick up quickly if you work hard at it.
McKenzie: What was it that you liked so much about lacrosse?
Roberts: Well, it’s a physical game and I’m into working hard. It’s a great team sport. It’s hard to explain, but anyone who has ever played it knows what I’m talking about. I just loved it from the first time I picked up a stick. I also thought it was a great sport to help prepare me for hockey.
McKenzie: What kind of player were you?
Roberts: Even though I started to play late, I began to pick up the skills okay. But to tell the truth, I was never that great of a ball handler. I used to baby-sit Joe (Nieuwendyk). (Laughs) I was kind of a tough player and I guess I used to scrap a fair bit. Joey was our big scorer and we didn’t want anyone messing with him, I played it tough.
McKenzie: What’s your most memorable moment from your lacrosse career?
Roberts: There were a lot of high points because I played on a lot of good teams including a Minto Cup champion. But the one thing that stands out for me, individually anyway, was in my third year. I guess I was only 14 at the time and our team went to Richmond, B.C., for the Bantam nationals.
I was named MVP at that tournament and that was really something because Joe (Nieuwendyk) was the big goal scorer and offensive star. I’d only been playing for a couple of years and here I win this MVP award at a really big tournament. The other big thing was winning the Minto Cup, in 1985 I think against Coquitlam. But the bad part about that was I couldn’t play in the Minto Cup final because I had to be in Ottawa to play for the 67’s (of the Ontario Hockey League). Even in the playoff rounds leading to the final, I had to drive back and forth from Ottawa to Whitby for the games. I remember one time I was late for a game and I got a ticket for speeding on the 401.
McKenzie: As you watch Lacrosse now, what do you find most appealing about it?
Roberts: I Really like the combination of physical play and ball movement. It’s a game you have to watch live to appreciate. It’s too fast and too hard to follow the ball watching it on TV. It’s just so fast and physical. That’s why I like it.
McKenzie: How would you compare Lacrosse to other sports?
Roberts: It’s obviously a lot like hockey. Same number of players. Same basic objective. But it is rougher than hockey. Body checking is one thing, but the force of a legal crosscheck is really something. Nothing compares to that. Now, having said that, it’s not a dangerous sport.
McKenzie: If Lacrosse players earned the same kind of money as pro hockey players, do you think the game would have mass appeal like hockey?
Roberts: Yes, no question about it. I could see where there would be huge crowds to watch it in big arenas. But, like I said, I think it would be a problem for TV. People who haven’t followed the game would have a real hard time watching it on TV because the ball moves so fast and it would be awfully difficult to pick up on the TV screen.
McKenzie: What do you think has to happen to make Lacrosse a major sport?
Roberts: I think a lot of parents are concerned about putting their kids in Lacrosse because they think it’s too rough. Lacrosse is a physical sport, but it’s a safe sport, too. The equipment is good. If you can make more people realize that, you’ll get more kids playing. If you get more kids playing, there will be a greater demand to watch the games. It’ll grow.
McKenzie: How has Lacrosse contributed to your development as a person and a pro athlete?
Roberts: The two biggest things are conditioning and discipline. If you’re going to play Lacrosse at a high level, you have to be in great shape. It also requires great discipline to be part of a Lacrosse team.
McKenzie: Who’s the best Lacrosse player you’ve ever seen?
Roberts: I guess I’m a little biased, but I would have to say it’s Joe Nieuwendyk. He was an unbelievable player in Junior. He was scoring four to seven goals every game. He could handle the ball like no one else and, boy, he could run like a deer. I was a grinder. I’d run through people. It was such a joy to watch Joe play the game. I’ve never seen anyone handle a ball like he did. I can’t speak for Joe, but I really believe if he could have made as much money playing Lacrosse as hockey, he would have picked Lacrosse. I’m a little different. I love Lacrosse, but hockey is number one for me. I think Joe would have liked nothing better than to have a career in Lacrosse. He loves the game that much.
McKenzie: Do you have any unfulfilled fantasies about playing Lacrosse ?
Roberts: Yes, I always wanted to play senior lacrosse for the Brooklin Redmen. I would have just loved that. That senior lacrosse is so exciting. You’ve got more mature men, right in their athletic prime, playing a game that tougher and more skilled than anything else. At that level, it’s the toughest sport I’ve ever seen.
McKenzie: Well, you could retire from hockey in your early 30’s. That’s not too old to come back to Whitby and play lacrosse for the Redmen, is it?
Roberts: (Laughs) Yeah, great idea. Sure, Joe and I will both come back and play again. Wouldn’t that be a hoot! It just might be the highlight.
Thank you – W.M.L.A. for the use of this article.
Gary Groob has been involved with Lacrosse for the majority of his life, whether playing, coaching, or covering the sport for the media.
An avid fan, with a real drive about helping to “grow the game”, Gary became part of podcasts about the game 10 years ago. Through the podcasts, he made an association with Kevin Neibauer of Lax Philly, who convinced him to come on board and write for them. The rest they say is history.
Through many miles (flying and driving) Gary has made inroads with the National Lacrosse League, Major Series Lacrosse League, the Ontario Lacrosse Association, as well as the Arena Lacrosse League, covering the leagues, their teams, and players, working for, and in concert with all of them.
In the year 2020, Mr. Groob was made the media person for the Arena Lacrosse League, voted onto the board of directors of the Brampton Excelsiors Lacrosse Club, as well as being made administrator of the Lacrosse page “Global Lacrosse” with a membership of 9000 members in over 90 Countries.
Mr. Groob co-hosts a weekly Lacrosse show on Spanglish Sports World, and ZingoTV channel 250, as well as writes a weekly lacrosse column for La Portada Canada News (both in print, and online).
Mr. Groob’s other sports interests include Hockey, Football, Boxing, Wrestling, and Baseball, competing competitively in Boxing and Wrestling for many years.