As a youngster, Jimmy Roberts kept his eyes open for every opportunity to move ahead in the world of hockey. His first big strike came when he laced up for the Peterborough Petes of the OHA in the late 1950s. It was there that he fell under the direction of the team's coach, Scotty Bowman.
Having been pointed in the right direction, Roberts turned pro with the Montreal Royals of the EPHL. He then jumped to the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens for a couple of seasons before stepping up to the AHL and the CHL with the Cleveland Barons, Quebec Aces, and the Omaha Knights.
Late in the 1963-64 season, he saw his first NHL action with Montreal, picking up 13 games, his first assist, and a run in the playoffs. The move marked the start of a lengthy big-league career with no return trips to the minors.
Over the next three seasons, Roberts established himself as what Conn Smythe described as "a hewer of wood and a hauler of water." In other words, Roberts was an unspectacular but dedicated player with a strong commitment to team play. He was once described as being built like a mooring post for a battleship. When he hit the ice, he was an alert and intense competitor.
With the Habs, Roberts' job was to work as the backdrop to a lineup replete with stars. He killed penalties and slowed opposition lines like water in a deep freeze. In 1967, however, the expansion St. Louis Blues made Roberts their first-ever selection. He joined the club and relished his role as a leader and tireless toiler. He also began to play defense in addition to his wing duties.
During the course of his four and a half seasons with the club, his point totals rose and he was awarded the team's captaincy in 1971 as a result of Red Berenson's departure. But shortly thereafter, the Blues found themselves in need of an offensive threat to take the load off Garry Unger. They traded for Phil Roberto of the Canadiens and used Roberts as collateral.
So he returned to the familiar ice of Habs' hockey where he'd already won two Stanley Cups during the '60s. This time around, he was the grizzled veteran known as "Old Dad" although he still had plenty of spirited hockey left to play. By the time he was traded back to the Blues in 1977, he had occasion to enjoy three more league championships.
Roberts rejoined the Blues for one final season in 1977-78 and then retired. Since leaving the ice, he has coached with the Buffalo Sabres, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Springfield Indians, the Hartford Whalers and the St. Louis Blues.