New de­fence­man fits in well

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

Sam Roberts came to the HGOE CeeBees with a lot of mileage on his 32-year-old frame. The St. John’s na­tive has played all over North America and even pro­fes­sion­ally in Europe, but he was ready for a change of scenery this sea­son and anx­ious to find a team to play with closer to home.

St. John’s na­tive Sam Roberts had enough of the travel.

Since just be­fore his 17th birth­day, the 32-year-old de­fence­man has been trav­el­ling some­where for hockey. In the 15 years since de­part­ing for his first year with the Cum­ber­land Grads of the Cana­dian Ju­nior Hockey League, Roberts has made stops in Que­bec, Nova Sco­tia, Ge­or­gia, Ohio, Penn­syl­va­nia, Ire­land and France.

In that time, there’s been plenty of long bus rides, flights and drives as he criss­crossed mul­ti­ple coun­tries in search of the NHL dream.

“I’d been gone since I was al­most 17. That’s half my life­time and I’ve done enough trav­el­ling, com­ing and go­ing,” Roberts told The Com­pass last week. “I’d made it known to a cou­ple of peo­ple that it was my last year play­ing away and (I wanted to) play a bit of se­nior hockey.

“There’s a lot of fa­mil­iar faces and it’s al­ways been in the back of my mind that I’ve al­ways wanted to play at home again, have some fam­ily in the stands and play against some old friends.”

With that in mind he threw his name in the last Avalon East Se­nior Hockey League (AESHL) draft of the sea­son and waited to see where he’d land. The HGOE CeeBee Stars hap­pily scooped up the high pro­file blue­liner and made him the first over­all pick.

But why the Avalon East Se­nior Hockey League?

Surely a guy with his ré­sumé could earn some money play­ing in the high pro­file Cen­tral West Se­nior Hockey League. The an­swer to that ques­tion goes back to the travel.

The far­thest he’d go for a game is Har­bour Grace, a short 45-minute drive from his home in the cap­i­tal city. In the cen­tral league, that bal­loons to five hours and a bus ride.

“I didn’t want to come home only to spend ev­ery week- end trav­el­ling back and forth across the is­land. Cou­ple that with the fact I have some very good friends play­ing in the league, es­pe­cially Har­bour Grace, it was a no-brainer for me,” said Roberts. “I com­mend the guys that (go west) and maybe if I was in a dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stance I prob­a­bly would.

“That drive out to Har­bour Grace once or twice a week is sim­ply all I’m look­ing for. If I don’t see another bus, I’ll be OK.”

Shoring up the blue-line

The CeeBees are happy to have Roberts and his con­sid­er­able skill on the ice. In just four

games of ac­tion, he’s al­ready be­come a dress­ing room leader and a fo­cal point for the team.

It’s not strange to see Roberts hav­ing a con­tin­u­ous con­ver­sa­tion with the of­fi­cials over the course of a game. Nor is it strange to see him spark the CeeBees’ at­tack while be­ing the first man back on de­fence.

Head­ing into last week­end, he sat tied for third in league scor­ing and tied for the lead amongst de­fence­man with five points (three goals, two as­sists).

“The hockey’s been great so far,” said Roberts. “You never know what you’re get­ting into un­til you start play­ing games. I was kind of hold­ing my breath go­ing into that game out in Har­bour Grace against the (St. John’s) Caps. A lot of the guys said it was go­ing to be phys­i­cal and have a good pace. I tell ya, I haven’t been hit like I’ve been hit these last four games.”

Fit­ting in

Go­ing to a new team can be rough when it comes to fit­ting in and get­ting to know your team­mates.

That wasn’t ex­actly the case for Roberts. He’d played with Robert Slaney on one of his previous hockey stops and calls him a friend.

That’s like­wise for other guys in the lineup.

That made his ad­just­ment to the dress­ing room eas­ier than most.

“Since we started prac­tic­ing, peo­ple would ask me what I thought of the team or what I thought of the group. It’s a group of guys I’d got­ten to know prior to this sea­son. Some bet­ter than oth­ers,” said Roberts. “Now that we’re into it and played a few games, it’s a group that I’m happy to be a part of.”

With his re­turn to the prov- ince, his ca­reer has come full cir­cle.

Roberts back play­ing where he started against guys he both played against and with as a mem­ber Avalon mi­nor hockey.

“Whether I play one more year or 10 more years, it’s nice to be fin­ish­ing it up at home,” he said.

NI­CHOLAS MERCER/TC ME­DIA

St. John’s de­fence­man Sam Roberts is hav­ing a solid im­pact in his first year of se­nior hockey with the HGOE CeeBee Stars.

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