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Like father, like daughter - sort of (Jim and Abby Roque)
2020-04-13

One of the most gifted hockey playmakers of his era, on a local level, Jim Roque would parlay his success both with the Lo-Ellen Park Knights and the Nickel Centre Native Sons into a four-year scholarship at Lake Superior State University.

And though he would amass more than 140 points between 1983 and 1987 in the Soo (Michigan), Roque would see his playing career stalled upon graduation, a victim of the brand of hockey that was prevalent at the time.

"I was always small, and back in those days, at 5'8" and a buck forty (140 pounds), you weren't going very far in hockey," he said.

Fast forward one generation, maintain that same offensive flair, add more size (at least relative to her peer group), and daughter Abby Roque has emerged as one of the top prospects in women's hockey in the United States, recently named as one of the three finalists for the Patti Kazmaier Award, presented to the most outstanding female in NCAA hockey.

In many ways, her foundation was established in much the same way as her father's, years earlier in northern Ontario.

"In Killarney, we grew up playing on ponds and outside rinks," recalled Jim, who insisted that he played house league hockey, almost exclusively, until he reached high-school age. "I wish I could remember the name of the gentleman at Adamsdale Playground, but he used to give us the key to the shack so we could go back at night, once all of the younger kids left."

"It was basically just shinny. I just played because I liked playing, I never really thought much at all about where I was going."

Where his trails would lead would be the stuff hockey fans dream of, a 24-year career in NCAA coaching, with lengthy stops both at Lake State and Clarkson. These days, Roque finds himself six years into his pro scouting assignments, having worked with long-time friend Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs for the past three, the pair knowing each other well from their time in Sault Ste Marie.

Yet despite this highly impressive resume, Roque did not stray far from his roots when it came to opening the door, in hockey, for Abby.

"All I did for my daughter, and this is the God's honest truth, was to build a rink in the backyard," he said. From there, the soon-to-be graduate of the vaunted Wisconsin Badgers' program simply reverted to her natural born instinct.

Abby Roque would have to wait to truly appreciate the man at her side.

"His stats were always really good, I got to know those as I got older, so I knew that he was a really good hockey player, just a little small for the game," she said. "I think we do play a similar style in the sense of the playmaking ability and things like that."

"A lot of that, for me, came from just playing as a kid. We always had the outdoor rink, and me and him would go out there and play and have fun."

With Jim serving as head coach at Lake Superior State from 2005 to 2014, the realities of their respective hockey schedules would limit any chance of immersing himself too heavily into the development of the budding star.

"I was so busy with my coaching, so it was my wife (Julia) that did a lot of the travelling with Abby," he stated. "Abby just kind of figured stuff out on the rink, she has always been that kind of a kid her whole life."

"After games, he might show me more options that I had, draw things up, give me ideas," suggested Abby, the younger of two girls in the family (Emma was a figure skater).

"If we were watching a hockey game, he would point things out. Even going to his (Lake State) games, we would talk hockey after, talk about how the game went. That was all in my learning curve, just being engulfed in the game with him, thinking the game the same way."

But there were differences, some that emerged intrinsically just by virtue of the limited routes that one could take in trying to map out a progression in female hockey while living in a town of some fifteen thousand in the Upper Peninsula.

Abby was not an identical clone to her father.

"She is very creative, she'll try just about anything, but the other thing about her is that she's big and strong," noted her dad. At 5'8" and 175 pounds, Abby Roque adds a very interesting dynamic to the mix of any elite women's team. "She knows how to use her body well, and she has hands and can make plays," added the coach/scout in the household, who clearly has a pretty keen eye for the game.

With the only real alternative in girls' hockey lying with either the Sault Ste Marie Wildcats program, across the border, or connecting with American travel teams six hours or more away from home, Abby would find her niche right in her own backyard.

"When I was younger, the only thing I really knew was playing with the boys," said Roque, who followed up an impressive four years with the Sault High Blue Devils, moving directly from there to Wisconsin.

She credits the experience greatly for the all-around player she has become, now known for an equal mix of her outstanding offensive skill-set, a defensive awareness across all areas of the ice, and enough physicality to garner her a little extra room, when necessary.

"Growing up with the boys, I was never the offensive powerhouse on the team," she said. "I was never the best player on my team in my youth career. I was usually viewed as a smart player, so I got to play with some of the better players, because I could pass them the puck. But I always knew the importance of the D zone."

"And I always hated being on the ice when we got scored on. Growing up as not the best player, you learn to take care of your own zone."

In her four years with the Badgers, Roque has put up staggering numbers: 56 goals and 114 assists in 155 career games. Throw in another 139 minutes in penalties, just for good measure. Yes, there was an adjustment that was needed.

"The physical side of it was definitely a change, even though girls' hockey is still a very physical game," she said. "But you're not playing against players the size of these fully grown young men who are seniors in high school. My first year at Wisconsin was probably the most penalties I had ever gotten."

"I would get a lot of body checking penalties, because of how I was used to playing the game, going into the corners hard and preparing for hits, stuff like that."

Her father, by contrast, rang up a whopping PIM total of just ninety minutes in four years with the Lakers.

The combination of similarities, and differences, in their games is just part of the reason that Abby Roque had been named to the US national team that was scheduled to compete at the IIHF World Championships in Halifax in March.

Like father-like daughter, sort of, has worked out just fine for Jim and Abby Roque.

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