by Jim Boyle
Gordie Roberts, a former Minnesota North Star and member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame who helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win two Stanley Cups, has accepted the position of Elk River High School head boys’ hockey coach.
Roberts has been an assistant hockey coach for the Hamline University hockey program for the past two years. He is also a former professional scout for the Montreal Canadians from 2001 to 2010 and director of player development for the Phoenix Coyotes from 1996 to 2001.
“We are ecstatic to have a coach with his level of experience and character,” said Mike Cunningham, the activities director for Elk River High School.
Roberts will meet with players as early as the next day or two, Cunningham said.
“I want to get going with this so Gordie can begin immersing himself in Elk River hockey and the community,” Cunningham added.
Roberts will succeed Tony Sarsland, who resigned under fire from the head coaching position late in the season this past year. He later withdrew his resignation only to resign again after the close of the season once the school district had completed an investigation and planned to share the findings with the Elk River Area School Board.
Sarsland, 64, won his 500th game in January 2006 at the Elk River Ice Arena amid much fanfare, and was closing in on 600. His final mark is 588-277-26 in 27 seasons. Only three coaches in the state (two retired) have won more than 600.
The Elks have earned six trips to the state tournament, and won it all in 2001.
Roberts told the Star News he was attracted to the program because of its rich tradition, and was sold on it by people like Cunningham and Elk River High School Principal Terry Bizal.
Roberts played in the NHL for 15 years, including nearly eight seasons with the Minnesota North Stars.
He started his professional career in 1975 with the New England Whalers of the WHL. He was still with the Whalers when the NHL and WHA merged.
He went on to play for the Philadelphia Flyers, and St. Louis Blues before he was picked up in October of 1990 by Pittsburgh head coach Bob Johnson during the Penguins’ rise. He helped the team win the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history and again the following year.
He went on to finish his career with the Boston Bruins. While with the Bruins he became the first American-born player to play in 1,000 games in the NHL.
During his hockey career he also represented the United States in the Canada Cup in 1984 and the World Championships in 1982 and 1987.
“We are ecstatic to have a coach with his level of experience and character, Cunningham said. “Gordie will start to put his coaching staff together in the next few weeks.”
Roberts will be paid the standard coaches salary of $6,362, and has the potential to make more through offering hockey camps and clinics.
“Obviously, I am an advocate for all programs,” Cunningham said. “I never coached hockey. My kids play. I’m a football, wrestling and track coach, but this is a hockey town. This will be a big deal for the community.”
Cunningham said there were between 10 and 20 applicants and five were interviewed. Current assistant coaches will have to re-apply for their positions.