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

Posted on July 25th, 2016 by

SAINT PETER, Minn. – 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 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.

Related Content:

Mankato Free Press: Longtime Gustavus hockey coach Don Roberts dies at 83

Star Tribune: Legendary Gustavus hockey coach Don Roberts dies at 83

St. Peter Funeral Home: Donald Eugene Roberts Life Legacy



  1. Alan Molde says:

    We’ve lost a legendary coach but more importantly an outstanding man. Coach had time for everyone. I will miss him dearly.

    • Paul Thompson says:

      Coach Roberts was an example of creating a powerful future with limited resources.

      In the late 60s he assembled a team of hard working players willing to shovel, flood, drive and win 4 championships in 4 years.

      None of that would have happened without Donny’s dogged commitment to learn the game of hockey and the coaching skills that made him Coach Roberts, all star coach and human being.

      Condolences to the Roberts family and long live Coach Roberts’ legacy.

  2. Donny Walsh says:

    One of the legendary leaders in Gustavus history. He will be missed by everyone. I loved it when he would come out to Boston with the team or on his own. He would hop on the train and just talk to people to figure out how to get to our house! He always had great stories to tell and the best attitude about everything. Condolences Nancy, Greg, and the whole Roberts family

  3. Bill Stewart, Dedham , ma. says:

    When a man like Coach Don Roberts leaves us, there is a certain feeling of loss. No question. But when you think about the coaching that he did, the lessons he taught and the example he set for his players and those of us who coached against him, he is never really gone. Those qualities endure.

  4. Sherry Pitkanen (Kemp). January Term Secretary of 1975/76. says:

    So sorry to hear of Coach Roberts. He was a great coach and an awesome man.