Since the passing yesterday of Jimmy Roberts, the first head coach in Worcester’s AHL history, I’ve posted on twitter a few links to news articles on his life and passing and a handful of retweets from former players remembering Roberts. In this quick posting I won’t be recounting any of those, but rather it’s about the one time I interacted with Coach Roberts.
It was in either late November or early December of 1994, the IceCats inaugural season, and well before I was blogging about hockey. My wife and I had only been dating a few months, and we’d been to a handful of IceCats games but didn’t have a ticket package of any kind. Seeing as we were planning on going to a lot more games we decided to go talk to a ticket representative one morning about getting one. After a brief phone conversation with a ticket salesman at the IceCats we agreed to meet at the Centrum (as it was called then) so we could pick our seats and decide what package we were going to get.
We met the ticket rep, whose name I’ve long since forgotten, in the lobby and went into the arena to pick our seats. There was a big difference in the price between the seats in the lower bowl and the upper 200 sections, so upstairs we went and it took just a couple minutes to pick out our seats: section 210, row C, seats 1&2. As we sat there he wrote up the sale, took my money, and then we left making small talk as we walked back out of the building.
As we got to the lobby walking from the other direction was a man moving like he had a mission, making a bee-line for the doors. “Hey Coach” yelled the ticket rep, “a couple of new season ticket holders” as he pointed us out. Coach Roberts slowed his walk, came right up to us hand extended. With a firm handshake he introduced himself “Jim Roberts, nice to meet you”. My wife and I introduced ourselves and Roberts asked us, “Know a lot about hockey?”.
I half laughed at the question and replied, “Well enough, I guess. I do know I’m not good enough to play in the pros.” Without missing a beat, Roberts quickly replied as he threw his thumb over his shoulder, “Well, you’re already smarter than some of these guys”. And with that, he nodded and walked through the door.
Coach Roberts would go on to have the worst season in Worcester’s AHL history, and yet when people talk about the 1994-95 season there are nothing but positive memories. The IceCats were the last independent team to compete in the AHL, and had a roster full of players deep into the back nine of their career or young players that were years from making their mark in the game. And yet it was by far the hardest working team ever in Worcester’s 20 season AHL history. They were far less talented than most of their opponents, but night in and night out the IceCats played harder than every other team in the AHL.
Despite just 24 wins and 54 points it is that 94-95 IceCats team that every Worcester squad after was compared too. All 19 others had more talent, but not a single one of them played harder. If you were to list every Worcester team statistic by season both of Coach Roberts seasons in Worcester would rank near the bottom, and yet if asked to rank the four head coaches in Worcester’s AHL history you’ll find very few that don’t have Roberts as number one. In Roberts’ long list of accolades being the best head coach in Worcester’s AHL history probably doesn’t rank that high. But for us here, it’s the most important one.
RIP Coach Roberts.