As a rugged defenseman who more than occasionally found himself in the penalty box, Gordie Roberts won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins during his 15 seasons in the NHL.
Roberts was a tough guy. Reliable, too. He averaged more than 73 games per season.
It’s no wonder the Elk River hockey program, which has a long-established reputation for producing hard-edged players and blue-collar teams, caught the interest of the Detroit native who spent at least parts of eight seasons with the Minnesota North Stars.
“It’s all timing when different things come up like this,” said Roberts, who served as an assistant coach at Hamline the past two seasons and was named the new Elk River coach on May 8. “I was kind of fortunate the timing was good for me.
“(Former Elk River coach Tony Sarsland) definitely set the mark on having hard-working, intense teams. I’m trying to take advantage of that work ethic.”
Roberts and his wife, Marlo, have two adult children, Ben and Dana. Ben played at Bloomington Jefferson and Augsburg College, where he completed his career last year.
The Roberts live in the Bloomington area, although Gordie said that is likely to change. He said he hopes to move closer to Elk River.
“We’re probably going to look at the other side of town,” he said.
Roberts, 54, has been an assistant coach and director of player development with the Phoenix Coyotes and a scout with the Montreal Canadiens. He said all those years on the road watching games and evaluating players gives him a unique perspective on how to assemble a team.
“From scouting I learned that it is very important to have guys in slots and roles,” said Roberts, who was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999. “I look to have a third line that has a different mentality and role to it. Same with defense, each slot is a little different.
“I know what I need, it is just a question of getting to know the kids and where they fit.”
Roberts, a self-described rink rat who is a regular in shinny games at Edina’s Lewis Park Rink, is one of three former North Stars defensemen coaching Minnesota high school teams. Curt Giles is the head coach at Edina and Shawn Chambers is the head coach at Northern Lakes.
The NHL careers of Roberts, Giles and Chambers overlapped with the North Stars in 1987-88, when all three spent at least part of the season in Minnesota.
Stillwater’s Phil Housley, Thief River Falls’ Tim Bergland and Chaska’s Dave Snuggerud also are state head coaches who played in the NHL.