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Five years after skating in the Newfoundland senior ranks, Mario Roberge was part of Canadiens’ 1993 Stanley Cup win

Mario Roberge played 112 regular-season games and 12 playoff contests in the NHL, all with the Montreal Canadiens. — File photo/Montreal Canadiens
Mario Roberge played 112 regular-season games and 15 playoff contests in the NHL, all with the Montreal Canadiens. — File photo/Montreal Canadiens

His Habs teammates thought Mario was super

He shared a dressing room with two future Hall of Famers and four 80-point producers from that 1992-93 season, and another player who would go on to record three straight 50-goal campaigns, yet one of the Montreal Canadiens players who commanded the most respect in the room was a little-known, tough-as-nails winger by the name of Mario Roberge.
“Oh yeah, big time,” answered Kirk Muller, the assistant captain on that Montreal team which will celebrate winning the Stanley Cup 25 years ago next month. “There’s always a full respect in the NHL when you see a guy, who probably doesn’t have the greatest skill level, grind his way in a very tough, physical way to the NHL.
“The guys had so much respect for Mario, for the way he made it.”
Roberge’s story may be the best one never told, at least by the national media. In 1987-88, Roberge was the player-coach of the Port aux Basques Mariners of the-then Newfoundland Senior Hockey League. Two years prior to that, he and his brother, Serge, appeared in two games for the St. John’s Capitals before returning to Quebec. Following a year in the lowly Atlantic Coast league with the Virginia Lancers (where they were coached to a league title by a 28-year-old John Tortorella), the Roberges landed in Newfoundland again, this time in Port aux Basques.
Two years after that, following a pair of winters in the American Hockey League with the Sherbrooke Canadiens, Roberge made his first NHL start, one of five that season with the Montreal Canadiens.

“Mario, a guy who scratched and clawed all through his career to get to the NHL, and stayed there for a while, really had an impact on our team. Everyone loved him.”
Kirk Muller on his former Canadiens teammate, Mario Roberge


The next year, Roberge would make 20 appearances for the Habs, before becoming a full-time NHLer in 1992-93, playing in 50 games for the Canadiens.
It was quite the season in the Montreal that year. Despite finishing sixth overall in the league and third in their division, the Canadiens won their 24th Stanley Cup, capping it off by dispatching Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings in the final.
Roberge, who was coming off a regular season stats line that read four goals, four assists and 142 penalty minutes, made three playoff appearances.
“He was a real key part of that team,” said Muller, who today is an assistant coach on Claude Julien’s Montreal staff, and who was in town last weekend for the provincial Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Hockey Heroes Weekend.
“We were a team really built on a team concept, you know, built on a defensive mentality. But a lot of people don’t realize a lot of guys had career years that year, so we put up bigger numbers than a lot of people thought.
“But, of course, this was the 1990s so you needed people who came in and played that physical brand of hockey. The group that we had was a skating, well-disciplined team. But we didn’t have the size and toughness a lot of other teams had. The impact Mario had on the games, and the physical presence he brought to our lineup, can’t be underestimated.
“Mario, a guy who scratched and clawed all through his career to get to the NHL, and stayed there for a while, really had an impact on our team. Everyone loved him.”
Muller and John LeClair, the overtime hero on Montreal during that 1993 final (he scored twice in OT) before going on to star in Philadelphia where would pot 50 goals three years in a row, talked about a 1993 team reunion while in St. John’s (LeClair was also at the Hockey Heroes Weekend).
It’s been 15 or more years since Muller’s seen Roberge. Roberge would play only 37 more NHL games after winning the Cup, finishing his NHL career with 127 games played, seven goals, seven assists and 338 penalty minutes.
“He was a great soldier, and basically he was the guy who kept everyone loosey goosey,” Muller said.
“He was capable of hanging with anybody. Basically, he was a great teammate, a great dressing room guy. And he had everybody’s back. Everyone wanted him to do well. Let’s be honest: his skill level was minimal … he was right on the border all the time. But everybody was like, ‘Play him, get him in there.’
“These are the type of guys that championship teams have and need. They are part of what makes great teams tick.”
Muller said he was impressed with Roberge’s work ethic while in Montreal.
“Once he got there, he wasn’t like, ‘Hey, I’m here. I’m livin’ the dream.’ He worked hard every day. He stayed on the ice after practice, working on his game. He was a great example for a lot of the guys.”
His relatively small size — Roberge was listed at 5-11 and 185 pounds — had Muller marveling at the fact that Roberge didn’t give an inch to larger opponents.
“We were always like, ‘Look at this guy! He’s playing because he’s got such a big heart.’ You can’t ask for more than that.
“He wasn’t big, but I saw him fight (Bob) Probert and (Joe) Kocur and these guys. And they’d have the look on their faces, like, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’”

robin.short@thetelegram.com

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