Roberts adds skill, speed to IceDogs
Elijah Roberts leads all Niagara IceDogs defencemen in scoring. PHOTO BY: COLIN DEWAR
Elijah Roberts walks a tightrope each time he steps on the ice for the Niagara IceDogs.
The 18-year-old Brampton native is a highly skilled and mobile defenceman who has the ability to rush the puck and the speed to make dynamic plays.
But first and foremost, Roberts is a defenceman who has to take care of his own end first before worrying about offence.
It’s a push-pull Roberts has been dealing with his whole career.
“I think my whole life I have been like that,” Roberts said. “When I got to the OHL I learned how to manage it, when to go and when not to go. The way the game is going to bring offence from the blue line is a big thing and that’s part of the game.”
Roberts is mindful of his defensive responsibilities, despite his offensive prowess.
“Almost every time before you go you quickly in your mind think and look at where everyone is on the ice and who you’re out against. If I am out against a team’s top line you probably won’t see me up in the rush as much,” he said. “I don’t think there is a number how many times you should or shouldn’t go.
“It’s reading the play and taking what’s given to me.”
IceDogs head coach Billy Burke and his staff love Roberts’ skill set and are mindful of the delicate balance Roberts must maintain.
“I think for a player like Elijah it’s being able to recognize your spots and picking your opportunities,” Burke said. “Guys like him and Jessie Graham in the past kind of remind me of poker players where they want to go all in and win the big pot but sometimes you have to fold and do the minimum bet.
“It’s becoming good enough and smart enough to pick your spots. To his credit he does take pride in his defence. He’s not a 100 per cent offensive guy. He’s very strong and he battles hard and he does have the speed to make up for a lot of mistakes.”
Much like Graham or former IceDog Blake Siebenaler, Roberts’ speed can get him off the hook should he get caught up ice.
“Sometimes if you see him being a little over eager offensively, he does have the feet to get back,” Burke said. “We want him joining the rush, not leading the rush. The way we play as a team we want to get the D involved and have a five-man offence but not at the risk of giving up multiple odd-man opportunities.
“We want to make sure he is using his offensive instincts but not at the expense of costing the team.”
Roberts leads all IceDogs rearguards in scoring with four assists in seven games.
“It’s a huge bonus. If you look at the top teams in the league they are always getting scoring from their D,” Burke said. “It really helps your attack, takes the pressure off the forwards, and makes your team difficult to play against. We have a very mobile group. Guys who can create plays and create points.
“It’s huge asset.”
The IceDogs acquired Roberts in the summer from the Kitchener Rangers for three draft picks, including a second-round selection in 2020.
It was a deal that made sense for both sides.
“The way to win in the league is to win in the draft and that’s why we went out and drafted Billy Constantinou who is going to have his day in the sun down the road,” Burke said. “There’s no substitute for experience and to be able to bring in Elijah. He’s had his growing pains in Kitchener and he’s a veteran player who could be here potentially for three years.
“The price was fair. We realized it was a great deal for us. When you can move out just draft picks and bring in an impact player, it’s usually a smart move.”
Roberts spent two seasons with the Rangers after being a second round pick in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.
“I kind of saw it coming; it was a mutual thing,” Roberts said. “They had pretty crowded back end and coming here was a great opportunity for me to come and play some big minutes. It was a great move for both teams. Kitchener got some picks and I’m doing well so far.”
Roberts has quickly adapted to his new surroundings, on and off the ice.
“I’m loving it here. My billets have been great since Day 1 and the guys have been great. We’ve done a lot of team bonding stuff already,” he said. “I find here it’s more like a family between the people in the office and the players. Everyone knows each other and I’ve already started to do appearances. It’s a great community.”
Roberts appreciates the good start the IceDogs are off to having won five of their first seven games.
“It’s always good to get off to a good start,” he said. “My first year in Kitchener we didn’t and last year we were alight but this is the best start I’ve had so far. It speaks about the group of guys we have. Every night the guys want to win and guys do there job. Guys and blocking shots and grinding and the scorers are scoring.”
The IceDogs are in Guelph Friday and in Erie Saturday.
IceDogs add to staff
The Niagara IceDogs have added Jason Payne and Khalil Thomas to the hockey operations staff, in prospect development. Payne currently coaches at the Jr. A level (Tier II), with the Toronto Patriots and the Mississauga Senators (GTHL AAA), after having previously played and coached at the professional level.
Thomas, the father of IceDogs centre Akil Thomas, previously played 12 seasons professionally and won three championships.
“This is a big addition for our staff as an area we have lacked in the past is getting our drafted prospects who have yet to make our club on the ice to develop in Niagara and provide a better chance to make the team in the future,” general manager Joey Burke said. “These hirings give us as an organization two very respected coaches who will do a great job helping to mold our young prospects, while at the same time contributing to our representation as a whole.”