Monday, April 1, 2013

Dick Roberge: The Gretzky of the EHL

dick roberge johnstown jets
Dick Roberge is a legend in minor pro hockey and a legend in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The long time member of the Johnstown Jets of the Eastern Hockey League, Roberge made his mark in the NAHL in 1974-75 as head coach of the Jets.

The Coach

Dick retired as a player after the 1971-72 season. The Jets continued on after the demise of the EHL and became a charter member of the North American Hockey League in 1973-74. Although he was player / head coach of the Jets for three years near the end of his EHL career, Roberge was head coach of the NAHL Jets for just the 1974-75 season.

Although Johnstown finished fourth overall of eight teams during the 1974-75 regular season, the Jets pumped it up in the playoffs. Johnstown took out the Cape Codders three games to one in the opening round. In the semi-finals, the Jets were giant killers, beating the favoured Syracuse Blazers four games to three. The series was very even with each team scoring 26 goals over the seven games. The Lockhart Cup finals were a bit anti-climatic with Johnstown sweeping the Binghamton Dusters in four games while outscoring their opponents 20-8.

The Jets were the most penalized team in the NAHL in 1974-75 and were building the model for the 1977 movie ‘Slapshot’. Gary Sittler of the Syracuse Blazers led the NAHL in penalty minutes but the second, third and fourth spots belonged to the ‘Hanson Brothers’. Jeff Carlson (250 PIM), Dave Hanson (249) and Jack Carlson (246) would become the Hanson Brothers of hockey legend. The third Carlson brother, Steve, led the team in scoring with a modest 30 goals and 58 assists for 88 points over 70 regular season games.

The Player

Dick Roberge played for the Johnstown Jets from 1954-55 to 1971-72. In the first year, the team was in the IHL. Ten times over his EHL career, Roberge totalled 100 points or more. Twice he topped 60 goals and he was a 50 or more goal scorer on six occasions. Three times, he was the John Carlin Trophy winner as the player with the most regular season points. In 1960-61, he tied teammate Ken Laufman for the lead.

In his first year in the EHL, 1955-56, Dick led the league in goals with 64 and points with 118. In 1960-61, he would do the same with 56 goals and 116 points. In 1964-65, he led the league in points with 139 but his impressive 63 goals were six behind EHL leader, Gary Sharp of the Greensboro Generals. His personal offensive bests were 64 goals in 1955-56, 76 assists in 1964-65 and 139 points in 1964-65.

Roberge’s career totals in the EHL are nothing short of extraordinary. In 1,097 regular season games, he scored 720 goals and assisted on 938 for 1,658 points. Including a few short stints in the IHL and AHL, Dick’s 752 goals still stand as a career record for most goals in a minor league career.

Dick played a major part of a Johnstown Jets three-peat in the early 1960’s. In 1959-60, the Jets beat the New Haven Blades in the Walker Cup finals for the championship. It was the Blades again in 1960-61, falling to the Jets in six games. In 1961-62, Johnstown met the Greensboro Generals in the finals and took home their third and last championship in five games. These would be the only championships Roberge would win as a player.

Retired Number

The Jets met their demise after the 1976-77 season when the NAHL ceased to exist. In 1988-89, with the creation of the East Coast Hockey League, minor pro hockey was resurrected in Johnstown, Pennsylvania with the Johnstown Chiefs. The ECHL team existed until the end of the 2009-10 season before moving to become the current Greenville Road Warriors.

Over their existence in the ECHL, the Chiefs retired four jersey numbers, all belonging to players from the EHL Jets. In 1990, Johnstown retired number 11 in honour of Dick Roberge.

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