As he sat on the home bench of the rink at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, waiting to hop over the boards and get back into the game, Roberts was exhausted. His body slumped. Sweat fell down his brow. He was out of breath. It was the craziest week of Elijah Roberts’ life.
Generally, the first game back from the holiday break would not be a big deal, but the 24-year-old Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold men’s hockey defenceman was feeling the impact of spending a few weeks away from the rink. He had practiced just once in the last month—the day before.
“If I get caught in my own end here, it won’t be good,” he thought.
His exhaustion was matched by his motivation to contribute to his team and play well, especially with a special someone up in the stands. After months of anticipation, that game had a greater significance than most Roberts had played in his many years of hockey.
It was three days after the birth of his daughter Kylo and Roberts had three assists in a Bold victory over the Western University Mustangs. With Kylo in attendance—sleeping comfortably in the not-too-cold air of the rink—Roberts did what he told his girlfriend Mikaela Simard he would do: he “Went off for his baby.”
Now, Kylo is only two months old and is already part of one of the best stories of the year in sports. The balance of parenthood, athletics and academics is unimaginable for many but a reality for her dad—one he is taking in stride.
“For my entire life, it’s always been hockey and family,” says Roberts. “But now, hockey is number two, it’s not even debatable.”
With a child in the picture, Roberts’ priorities have shifted beyond hockey. Now, his daughter is top of mind.
For a university student to take on a responsibility of this kind may not be common but others have done it before.
About six years before Roberts played his first game as a father, Myles Charvis was venturing on his own journey in sports and parenthood. Charvis, who played on the TMU men’s basketball team for three seasons, had his son—also named Elijah—in 2016.
Charvis remembers the first few practices after Elijah’s birth. Unlike Roberts, he had told only his coach, not his teammates, that he was having a baby and had not received “Is the baby here yet?” texts. Instead, he walked into the locker room full of surprised congratulations.
Charvis admits his younger self may not have believed he was going to have a kid so young. But the day his son was born, the initial shock was replaced with excitement for the new chapter in his life. He says it all became real. “Another life is being brought into this world. And I’m going to be heavily responsible for it,” he says he realized.
Since then, he has learned to embrace “dad mode,” taking on the challenge of balancing athletics, work and adulthood. Now, Elijah Roberts is going down a similar road.
Simard has gotten to see Roberts grow a lot over the course of their five-year relationship but especially in the few months since Kylo was born.
“Watching him become a father has been my favourite thing so far throughout our relationship.”
Colleen Kamps is a youth care practitioner with over 40 years of experience and a lecturer in TMU’s child and youth care program. She is also the mother of Bold forward Jacob Kamps, which means she gets to see Roberts, Simard and their peers interact with Kylo at games.
Kamps explains that the first two years of a child’s life are all about attachment. Parents need to create a connection, which means responding to every one of their “little needs and wants.” She sees Roberts as the guy to push the stroller, take care of Kylo and give Simard a little bit of a break after games.
She adds that Roberts has a special connection with young people that oozes out at the rink when he’s interacting with youth, which includes signing autographs, taking pictures and making sure they feel noticed.
“Both of these parents have stepped up and said, ‘We’re going to parent, we’re taking this on, and we’re going in with full commitment,’” says Kamps. “That’s awesome to me.”
Kamps says taking care of a young child involves a healthy work-life balance and putting family first. As a student in child and youth care and the son of two parents with over 20 years of experience in the field, Roberts has a one step up on others in his position, says Kamps.
“Parenting is probably one of the hardest jobs we’ll ever do,” she adds. “People don’t get trained for that.”
Roberts says the toughest times might have been in the months leading up to Kylo’s birth, when he would wake up at 6:30 a.m. for practice, work most of the day and also factor in school and games. Moving back to the basement apartment of his mother’s home with Simard meant adding a one-hour commute from Brampton, Ont., to his already jam-packed days too.
“It was tough because I would just come home drained,” he says. “But then at the same time, I have a pregnant girlfriend who is even more drained than me.”
Since Kylo entered the picture, the juggling act continues. He remembers going to practice on an hour’s sleep. Now with the season over, he still makes it all work by taking things “rep by rep.”
Juggling is relatable for Charvis, who says time management is one of his biggest takeaways from young parenthood. Early on, he says, he had to learn to break down his responsibilities into pieces of a pie, dividing as equally as possible. But it was tough.
“I just felt kind of guilty at times,” Charvis says. He explains he was not around as much as he wanted to be because he was trying to provide for his family, go to school and pursue basketball all at once.
Simard says there have been times when Roberts is on a road trip or at school all day and she wished he could be there to give her a little extra help. Though, she appreciates he is getting an education and thankfully, Kylo has been a “very easy baby so far.”
“We’re kind of just taking it day by day,” says Simard. “Whatever challenges we face that day, we take them head-on. And we work as a team to figure out what’s best for our baby.”
The Bold’s heartbreaking playoff loss to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues meant Roberts faced the earliest end to a hockey season in his life. He sat in the locker room for a while, pissed. It stung, big time. But it wouldn’t last.
When he walked out of the dressing room to where Simard and Kylo were waiting, everything changed. Looking at this child—his child—was as if everything that had happened no longer mattered. He was just happy to see her. Just as he is after every game, win or loss.
“Anything that’s bad going on, she can just make the situation good or make my life good, even if it’s for a little moment,” said Roberts.
Simard remembers seeing the same effect the first time Roberts introduced Kylo to his teammates after that first game back. “He was just having a very proud dad moment. I was definitely just standing back in awe,” she said. It was then that Simard knew that this was their calling in life.
“We were meant to be parents,” she says. “It’s definitely gonna be hard at times. We’re gonna have our ups and downs. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Roberts never got to see his own parents as athletes. He says he hopes to play long enough for Kylo to form her own core memories of seeing him play. He hopes she will be proud to say “My dad played hockey and I got to watch him.”
Roberts’ success after Kylo’s birth continued.
On Jan. 7, the next game after the victory over the Mustangs, on the road against the Brock University Badgers, Roberts scored his first goal since Kylo was born. With five points in two games, the craziest week of his life ended with Ontario University Athletics and U Sports Player of the Week awards.
Simard said she was left speechless as he kept adding assists in that first game back.
“I was beyond proud of him. And I know Kylo was very proud too,” she says. She says people around her at the games now joke “That’s that dad energy.”
Simard says people ask her all the time how Roberts handles it all, having a newborn, school and hockey. Her response?
“I ask myself that every day.”