Legendary Gustavus Adolphus coach Don Roberts died on July 24 after battling degenerative heart disease.
Roberts was 83.
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 graduated in 1956 and joined the Marines where he served until 1959 when he returned 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.
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 NCAA Division III.
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 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 NAIA championships for 10 consecutive years (1968-77).
Gustavus finished second at the NAIA championships three times (1972, 1975, 1977).
After Gustavus joined the NCAA in 1980, the Gusties went 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.
Roberts served as the chairman of the board and president of the American Hockey Coaches Association and was a longtime member of the NCAA Rules and Hockey Advisory Committees. He 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, 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.
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 and children, Gregg, Tim, Mike and Susan.
A private family service will be held this week and a public service celebrating Roberts’ life will be held in Christ Chapel on the Gustavus campus in the very near future.