Legendary Gustavus Men’s Hockey Coach Don Roberts Dies At 83

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, November 19 in Christ Chapel.
Posted on July 25th, 2016 by

Legendary Gustavus Adolphus College men’s hockey coach Don Roberts ’56 died Sunday, July 24 at the age of 83 after battling degenerative heart disease. A private family service will be held this week, however a public service celebrating Roberts’ life will be held in Christ Chapel on the Gustavus campus in the very near future. Details will be announced in the coming days.

Don ROberts

Roberts coaches his team during a hockey practice.

A standout high school athlete in football, basketball, and baseball at Appleton (Minn.) High School, Roberts enrolled at Gustavus in the fall of 1952 where he also played football, basketball and baseball. He excelled in football for the Gusties, starting at fullback on three conference championship teams and earning all-conference honors his senior year. He graduated in 1956 and joined the Marines where he served in until 1959 when he returned to Saint Peter to teach and coach at his alma mater. Roberts served as coach of the Gustavus baseball (1960-64), football (1961-65), and wrestling (1960) teams, while also teaching in the physical education department early in his career. In 1964, Athletics Director Lloyd Hollingsworth asked Roberts to re-start the men’s hockey program and he accepted even though he had never played or coached hockey prior to taking over the reins of the fledgling Gustavus program. It was in this unlikely role that Roberts would leave a lasting legacy at Gustavus and in collegiate hockey, retiring in 1997 as the winningest coach in the history of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III men’s ice hockey.

In his first season at the helm of the hockey program, the Golden Gusties skated to a record of 1-14 before quickly becoming a dominant force in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), securing 12 of the next 13 league titles. Roberts’ teams also had success on the national stage, where they finished in the top four at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championships for 10 consecutive years (1968-77). Gustavus finished second at the NAIA championships three times—1972, 1975, and 1977.

Roberts

Roberts retired as the winningest coach in the history of Division III men’s hockey with 532 wins.

After Gustavus joined the NCAA in 1980, Roberts’ Gusties would go on to play in the NCAA national tournament seven times, including an appearance in the Frozen Four in 1982 (where they finished third). Roberts coached the Golden Gusties to an overall record of 532-290-25 in 33 seasons (1964-97) and his teams claimed 13 league titles. His 532 wins currently rank 20th all-time across all divisions of college hockey and sixth in Division III.

Recognized as one of the most prominent coaches in college hockey history, Roberts served as the chairman of the board and president of the American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) and was a longtime member of the NCAA Rules and Hockey Advisory committees. Roberts received the John MacInnes Award from the AHCA for lifetime commitment to collegiate hockey in 1993. He was named MIAC Coach of the Year seven times (1973, 1975, 1976, 1984, 1990, 1991, and 1993), and in 1975 both the AHCA and NAIA named him the National Coach of the Year. In 2009, Roberts was recognized for his outstanding service to college hockey by being named the recipient of the Hobey Baker Legends of Hockey Award.

Don Roberts

Roberts talks with his players after drawing up a play on the chalkboard.

During his career, Roberts coached 54 players who earned all-conference honors at least once and 28 players who were named to the NAIA or AHCA All-America squads. He also coached Chuck Linnerooth ‘66, the first hockey player inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame.

Roberts played a key role in the fundraising and construction of the Gustavus ice arena, which was renamed in his honor in 1998. Now called the Don Roberts Ice Rink, the multi-use space underwent renovations including a new center-ice scoreboard, updated graphics, new boards, and a state-of-the art sound system in 2013. Roberts was immortalized in the rink he built on January 10, 2015, when a bust featuring his likeness was unveiled at the spectator entrance to the arena.

A Saint Peter resident for the past six decades, Roberts is survived by his wife, Nancy ’56; children, Gregg ’80, Tim ’83, Mike, and Susan ’90; and his legacy that lives on in generations of Golden Gustie hockey players.

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 


10 Comments

  1. Susan Skalbeck Berenz says:

    Coach Roberts was an amazing coach and Boss. I will truly miss him.

  2. Rollie Hanks '60 says:

    Wonderful memories of Don…his first year back from the Marines, he redefined the word “conditioning” for us.

  3. Byron Helgeson '60 says:

    Yes, he was a friend of all GAC sports even if you didn’t play for him. A very good
    representative of GACollege athletics of which his family can be very, very proud.

  4. Bruce Gray says:

    Don and I met on the basketball court in Appleton in 1951 when the Mainstreeters played at Appleton. We renewed our friendship at Gustavus when we joined the Gustie Tradition. In the early sixties we would recruit up on the range in the dead of winter! Lots of great times with a great person and a wonderful Gustie. Bruce Gray ’61 and Sue Gray ‘2013

  5. David Malmquist says:

    Don was a great coach and a fine human being. He will be missed.

  6. Klaus Jung says:

    Standing ovation for Don Roberts – the coach and the person he was. He empowered his players on the ice and inspired them off the ice. There are plenty of success stories to tell.

  7. Brenda Thomas Schnettler '97 says:

    Amazing man & wonderful coach. I had the pleasure of being in a coaching class of his. 2 pieces of advice from him- get a dog, as they won’t care if you win or lose; and you don’t coach for the money (you do it for love). He will be missed.

  8. Pavel Pojdl says:

    I always enjoyed Don’s company and his views on life. Don was the reason I chose Gustavus, not an obvious choice for a czech/swiss hockey player at that time. Don believed in me and gave me a fair shot. I remember fondly the times he asked me to accompany him on recruiting/scouting trips in Minnesota. He listened to my observations on prospective Gustie recruits.
    My deepest sympathies go to Tim and the rest of the Roberts family.

  9. Robbie Robinson (1958) says:

    My prayers go out the Don’s family. I had the honor of being a teammate of his on the Gustie football team. He was not only a great teammate and player but also a great man of quality. His legacy will live on. Thanks for being a teammate and friend. God bless you Don as you rest in peace with our Lord.

  10. Dan lea says:

    Don was a wonderful uncle and a great coach.I will remember him for his kindness and family devotion.he never failed at making you feel special and putting a smile on your face.uncle Don you will be missed and forever loved.