Hockey: Elk River, Roberts getting acquainted
by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
New Elk River hockey coach Gordie Roberts has gotten to know parents, the administration, the facilities and most importantly, the players, over the summer.
“I’ve been getting to know the players and learning about the culture and work ethic for six or seven weeks,” said Roberts, 54, the former North Star who was a high-profile hire to replace Tony Sarsland, adding that he’s been working with assistant Ben Gustafson along with Mike Breyer, the school’s weight training coach.
Players from squirts on up skate throughout June and July. Varsity-age players have had a couple of scrimmages with Maple Grove, along with four games in a tournament at Eagan.
Roberts noted that Andrew Zerban and Wyatt Ege have been picked for an elite high school league, and four other Elks are trying out for a Tier 2 league.
Some of his players will be in fall sports before lacing up their skates.
“That’s fine with me. I want them to enjoy the whole high school experience. Hockey starts later this year, Nov. 15. Maybe by then some of them will be three inches taller and 10 pounds heavier!”
Roberts and his family were guests of honor at a recent meet-and-greet for players, parents and the School Board, hosted by the Blue Line Club at Rockwoods.
Roberts’ staff includes one of the prominent names in high school hockey in Bruce Johnson, who won 402 games in 32 seasons at Armstrong and more recently was an assistant at his alma mater, Augsburg.
Also on the varsity staff are Gustafson, formerly the Elk JV coach who was interim head coach at the end of last season, and Chris Prosser (father of Nate Prosser, current Wild player and former Elk) who has joined the staff as JV coach.
A Detroit native named after Red Wings legend Gordie Howe, Roberts played 20 pro seasons — five in the World Hockey Association with New England Whalers, then 15 seasons in the NHL with six teams, the longest stint being with the Minnesota North Stars from 1981–88. His pro distinctions included being the first USA born player to log 1,000 games in the NHL, winning Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992, and some good offensive stats for a defenseman with 606 points in 1,400 pro games.
He’s also been director of player development and an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes and a scout for the Montreal Canadiens. He coached the defense for Hamline since 2010.
The Elk job opened up when Sarsland, winner of 588 games and one state championship, resigned late in the 2011–12 season.
Like any new coach, Roberts said he’ll be “looking to make my own mark,” including emphasis on puck control and possession, physicality and skills. He added one of his goals is to reach out to Elk alums and get them more involved.
A resident of Bloomington for many years (his son played for Jefferson, then Augsburg), he moved recently to be closer to Elk River.