by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
What qualities do you want in your new Elk boys hockey coach, the Blueline Club was asked by activities director Michael Cunningham and superintendent Mark Bezek as they began their search in late March.
“When Mike and Mark asked about criteria,” said Michael Gonrowski, head of that boosters group, “we talked about leadership, and player development, and putting kids first, and having the experience to help kids move up after high school, having those kinds of connections.”
Gonrowski felt that ERHS delivered on all counts when they landed Gordie Roberts, 54, former North Star who played 21 years in the NHL, won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins, was director of player development and assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes, was a scout for the Montreal Canadiens, is enshrined in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and most recently coached defense at Hamline.
“Gordie Roberts certainly met, and exceeded, our criteria,” he said.
Roberts is a little before the time of the current players and even their parents.
“I didn’t know much about him when I first heard about it,” said Elk junior defenseman Wyatt Ege, “but I found out he’s in the hockey Hall of Fame and won a couple Cups, I’m pretty excited about it now.”
Added Gonrowski: “Most of the parents of high school age and youth hockey players might not be familiar with Gordie Roberts but I am 55, the same age, so I am well aware who he is. It’s awesome to get a guy who was an American player in the NHL and won two Stanley Cups.”
Seconding that is Lou Nanne, the former North Star player and general manager, and longtime color man for telecasts of the state hockey tournament, regarded as the state’s hockey guru.
“Gordie was a very hard worker when he was a player, really committed, and I expect that he’ll be the same as a coach,” said Nanne, contacted by the Star News. “Gordie is very knowledgeable about hockey. He has been in hockey his whole life. He’s been in different levels as a player and as scout, in both pro and amateur levels. He knows the Minnesota program extremely well and he had a son who played high school hockey. So he should do extremely well there.”
The hiring of a Hockey Hall of Famer to replace 27-year, 588-win coach Tony Sarsland was chronicled by Lets Play Hockey and the Star Tribune. He was quoted: “At this stage of 35 years on the pro treadmill, it was a just a question of timing and opportunity” that led him to Elk River. He added that Elk River “is a hardworking community, and Tony coached that way, definitely.”
Roberts will join a community that loves hockey and is accustomed to playing at a high level.
“We have a real good hockey tradition here,” said Gonrowski, “and he will be able to build on that.”