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Gary Roberts wants to teach kids hockey -- inside out

In this file photo former NHL player Gary Roberts leads players through drills at practice.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Sometimes, the most crucial hockey game takes place inside the helmet.

"I retired for 18 months when I played for Calgary, yet I played for 13 years – a total of 21 seasons – after I came back because of fitness and nutritional information I got. I made different lifestyle choices," said Gary Roberts, the former NHL star who now is a fitness advisor.

An Ontario regional camp for hockey mentorship, staged by the NHL Players Association and insurance giant Allstate, takes place Saturday at Etobicoke's MasterCard Centre. Professional nutritionists, fitness trainers and teachers to teach young players about the importance of off-ice skills, aided by three players with NHL experience.

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The program, designed to help players at all skill levels of the game, is a one-day mentorship camp for youth ages eight to 15 in Ontario. Past and present NHL players acting as instructors, included Stephen Staios, associate captain of the New York Islanders, Tim Brent of the Carolina Hurricanes and Mathieu Schneider, a well travelled defenceman who players for 10 NHL teams, including Canadian stops in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Roberts is part of a later camp for bantam-age players.

This weekend's free-of-charge camp gives players, parents and coaches an opportunity to learn from pro players and experts in the game in important areas such as nutrition, fitness, and mental skills. Admission was open to 120 boys and girls randomly drawn from over 1,200 registrations, but program fundamentals are also available at

It will be followed by the annual Bantam Mentorship Camp will be held July 17 to 21 at the Hershey Center, run by former NHLer and fitness guru Roberts.

"Now I have an opportunity to talk about life after hockey and some of the challenges I went through," said Roberts, whose career all but ended because of a neck injury.

"Age 14 or 15 is the time when you have to make decisions: is hockey going to be a pro career for me, or is it something I can use it for educational (scholarship) opportunities," he said.

Roberts said in the interview that when he was retired, he had the opportunity to look hard at himself. He didn't have to work, but he also did not like the person he was becoming.

"I got help with my neck (for an instructor in Colorado). I applied the information I got. I became 20 pounds lighter.

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"I'd been 20 when I got to the NHL in 1986, and I believed that the way I played, I had to be bigger, stronger, faster. But the way guys were doing it was off the mark... and its not just about being big and strong, it's about recovery."

Roberts says of 42 kids who attended the mentorship camp last year, 28 were first-round picks in their next draft into Major A hockey "and 10 more are eligible in June in the Quebec junior draft..."

He said the four-day camp includes a talk with coach Paul Dennis, time on the Hershey Centre ice with NHL players, a day of proper weight training and shopping at a Newmarket natural foods store for good nutritional items, such as quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes and real oatmeal. "They have proteins in the form of chicken and wild fish and lots of raw veggies," Roberts said. "Kids need 4,000 calories a day. If you're not putting that in, you're not putting it out when you're playing hockey," he said.

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Sports reporter

James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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