For Many Like Adam Roach, Hockey Is Simply Act One
One of the greatest things about the game of hockey often are the stories told that come from playing the game. NHL oldtimers attest that after retirement, beyond missing the games and competition, it is often the closeness of the boys club they miss the most. Regardless of the level of hockey play, what comes along with the game is an almost irreplacable sort of comraderie, one so unique and ingrained into that particular psyche, that it is hard to explain to those who have not partaken in it. Having recently read a book on such - Oldtimers, by Gary Mason - the testimonies as to why former NHL stars and fringe players get involved in Oldtimers tours is just that - not money, perhaps glory - but that void left from the comraderie of the boys club.
Everyone who has played hockey, has had glory days. Mine were more attached to a decade of coaching teenagers than playing th game itself, but I do miss them greatly. Each summer I contemplate diving back in. I'll do it one of these years.
What follows here is not a Montreal Canadiens or an NHL tale. This story is on a hockey fan / pickup hockey player level. It kind of tucks into what many of us never went beyond - our house league hockey glory days. Just like the NHLer's we worship, we have our tales to tell as well. This one of mine, startlingly came out of left field. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free - please - to share your similar memories and comments.
Hey, did I ever tell about the time I coached a kid that went on to play in the British hockey system in the English Ice Hockey Association?
Of course I couldn't have, because I did not learn about all this until about three months ago. And I was pretty freaked too- for a number of reasons!
The story I am about to tell, helped make a forgettable weekend a hell of a lot better.
That April 4 weekend, while our Habs were busy beating the Maple Leafs, I was having a bummer of a time. There were two places I wanted to be, but couldn't be in either. I wasn't able to meet up with some Canadiens fans and Habs Inside Out friends gathering for a game in Hamilton, because my daughter had a hockey tournament in Kanata. It turned out I couldn't follow her hockey weekend either - as while on the way there, my windshield wipers went dead in the pourring rain and we had to turn back. "Poke Check" is an important player on her team, and they were trounced 8-3 without her. I managed to find her a lift to Kanata for her Saturday morning game, but couldn't accompany her. She set up two goals in a 4-0 win that morning, and added a goal and an assist in a 3-3 tie later that afternoon in her final game of the season. Had her team earned just one extra point, they would have advanced and played that Sunday.
I sat down to watch the Habs and Leafs thinking that my blasted wipers had eliminated her team. I felt rotten!
Immediately after the game, I received an e-mail from out of the blue. It was simply titled, "Do You Know Who I Am?"
I trash a whack of spam mail on a daily basis, but the name attached to this one made me curious - "Adam Coyle Roach".
My initial thoughts told me Adam was a former co-worker of mine at the Kraft Ingleside cheese plant where I worked from 2005 to 2007. I opened the note to find a picture of a hockey team with an oval player photo insert. In the picture, I am the coach of the team!
My brain was buzzing!
"Wait a minute", I thought, "Is Adam a former co-worker or a player I once coached?" Confusion to say the least!
It turns out, Adam is both, much to my delight and pleasant surprise.
And what hockey coach wouldn't want to hear about what a former player is up to?
I have a good recollection of Adam as a co - worker, recalling more than a few interesting conversations between us. A liver of life to the fullest, Adam was always upbeat, interesting, outgoing and unique. Several of his interests mirrored my own. At one time, I almost took him up on an offer to head out to Toronto for a Queen concert.
Adam would have been memorable for any of us Kraft employees at that time, as he had joined our work crew along with his wife. If that didn't saparate this young gentleman from the pack, his wife Jean sure helped matters. Adam had met his bride while studying in England, and her pleasant demeanor, never mind a distinct British accent, assured a feast of friends at their table every lunch break. If I didn't get around to talking a whole lot more with Adam, it's likely because there were no ticket scalpers offering up the best seats next to them in the Kraft lunchroom.
So then, I couldn't possibly forget Adam Roach, the co - worker!
Trouble was, I really had to pry my cranium open to recall Adam the hockey player. And, if in fact they were one and the same, how come in our conversations at work Adam never brought up the year that I coached him.
Puzzled, I hurriedly replied to his e-mail and soon, we were going back and forth, catching up on all kinds of things, and I started recalling Adam the hockey player.
Adam is a somewhat shy man in certain ways. He had an incling that I had coached him back then, but because I hadn't brought it up, he figured he might be mistaken. Adam found me online quite by accident, while doing an internet search for a Cornwall Royals jersey he was hoping to purchase. A photo search brought him to this site, and he contacted me shortly after.
For three seasons, I coached a team sponsored by J.F. Markel Real Estate here in Cornwall. Perhaps it is the fact of having the same red jerseys and sponsor for three years running that made names and faces less easy to identify. I have coached hundreds of players, and not all of them can stand out over time.
I stared at the photo Adam sent for a good long stretch and started reconnecting some old wires. I studied the team closely. It was the 1994-95 season. Adam was a forward, and in the picture was standing next to a kid named Chris Valiquette, who once scored three goals for me in the final 1:13 of a game to earn a tie. I started to think of the age of those bantam players, and a bunch of stuff came back to me.
In that 1994-95 season, I not only coached, but I also served as league convenor. I did so, secretly, at the Cornwall Minor Hockey Association's vice president's request, as he felt at the time that no one knew the Bantom level players better. The VP was named Howard Champagne, a man I still am in regular contact with on a regular basis. Since J.F. Markell were off to an 8-0 start, Howard asked for my help in fairing out the teams. That task, which I felt terribly guilty doing, meant moving three players from my club onto the three bottom teams in the standings.
As convenor, I came inches from trading Adam to a weaker team. I'm glad I didn't. I was in the middle of choosing between him and another player, when a defenseman named Chris Depatie decided he would be first and last player to ever swear at me. Chris finished the season on a last place team.
In the end, the moves made didn't weaken my strong team, (we finished first with a 22-4-4 record), but they enabled the three helped teams to get much more competitive, as I gave them all solid players. By season's end, many of my better players, including Adam, either had girlfriends or work commitments that took them away from our games. We lost our first two playoff games, and we were done like dinner. The next season - with a much weaker team - we somehow won a championship.
Adam recalls me as coach, moredescriptively than I do him as a player. "I do remember that I quite liked you as a coach. I believe I felt you were competent and knowledgeable, and I had confidence in your coaching. You werent mean or anything to the kids. I unfortunately was only with you one year. I played up until 1998-99, my last eligible year in the minors. I don't recall how well I played for you, but by the time I was 18, I had really grown as a player, and was in the top 3 in league scoring, with every game being a multiple goal night."
For my part, I recall Adam as a bit of a connundrum that year I coached. His skill and size were a tease of promises. All the goods were there, but you got the sense that he was just growing from the body of an adolescent into that of a man. I've seen a lot of players at this same stage before, and all a coach can do is wait it out until intangibles such as timing and instinct start to kick in with body size and that newfound awkward feel from a recent growth spurt smooths out. Judging by what Adam tells me, that began happening not long after that season.
"I hated having to quit playing in the minor system, as I remember I'd started playing with my head up and the whole game became super easy for me from then on. Plus, I was stronger too, and I began laying people out despite the rules not allowing contact."
After minor league hockey, Adam worked a few disillusional jobs that had him thinking about the education and future he truly wished to pursue. Along the way, he fell in love, via the internet, with a girl named Jean Coyle from England. Listening to his heart and pulled his educational desires, Adam hopped an ocean flight follow his dreams.
Upon entering the U.K., Adam hit a few snags. As a wide - eyed 21 year old Canadian hitting International customs, he anxiously professed that he was landing in Britain to meet the girl he lusted for, and misundertsandings landed him in cahoots with government officials. In explaining why he was there - following his love - he was initially profiled as an undesirable deviant of sorts and was flown right back to Toronto after a night in the slammer with some real refugees and other detainees. Explaining to a customs agent that you are on English soil to hook up with a girlfriend you had met over the internet wasn't the advisable way to proceed at a time when the scrutiny of such things was more frowned upon and less commonplace than it is today.
Undeterred, and with his a password stamped with a large "X", Adam returned to England, finally hooking up with Jean, his schooling plans, and getting on with his life. Not long after settling in, his hockey yearnings returned.
While studying film acting and movie production, Adam looked into trying out for a team in the English Ice Hockey Association, which is just one level below the Elite and Premier leagues where the professional play. He ended up with a club from Kingston upon Hull called the Kingston Cobras. The experience turned out to be like nothing he had experienced back in Cornwall, to say the least.
By Adam's description, the British hockey system sounds like a Twilight Zone type of time warp. Things are definitely different and askew compared to the game we know here.
As hockey there at the time seemed trapped in a constant evolutionary flux, little was of the norm. Defunct teams and full leagues were in perpetual amalgamation mode due to finance troubles and fan interest. In time, Adam became settled on the Cobras team.
It also took a bit for players there to become used to Adam's Canadian style game, which he describes as being more geared towards the physical as opposed to the finesse. A 6 foot, 175 pound center, Adam tells that certain teams took offense to his aggresive nature on ice. In that sense, games would often take on a recreational style in matches against Scottish teams not used to body contact. Teams would actually meet prior to games, and settle on a set of rules in regards to hitting and what would be allowed in.
At least the rinks were NHL sized - 200 feet by 85 - as opposed to the larger European surfaces common in International hockey.
The English hockey terminology took some getting used to as well, Schedules are referred to as "fixtures", skates are called hockey boots and the three stars of the game are replaced the "Man Of The Match", wherein the awarded player is gifted with a case of lager at center ice after the game.
I'd say British hockey's got that idea nailed down right!
Often, Adam's Cobras team played games in arenas after the English Elite League professionals played to half full houses. Team such as the Belfast Giants, Manchester Phoenix, and Coventry Blaze known for aligning such former NHLer's as Theoren Fleury, Wade Belak, Ed Courtenay, and Mike Minard among others battled it out, with a surge in fan ineterest coming during the NHL lockout season of 2004-05.
Adam's game day routine was a draining one, as he did not own a vehicle at the time. For games and practices with 10 p.m. starts, Adam would don rollerblades, throw a fifty pound equipement bag over his should, and whip down the cobblestone streets and sidewalks two miles away to where the games were held.
As he puts it, Adam says "I must have appeared like some lager fueled hallucination to the drunkards outside the pubs on streetcorners, with a crumpled and floppy hockey bag over my back like some behemoth bookbag, returning home at 1 a.m., drained and zombie like after a full day of school, work, and hockey."
In 14 games with the Kingston Cobras, Adam scored 9 goals and added 18 assists, but it was a draining routine he could not keep up. After one season, Adam had to hang up his skates, concentrating on his schoolwork and starting to make film shorts.
Taking no chances the second time around with customs officials, Adam and Jean declared they were simply on vacation, and blew out of England for three weeks, destined for Canada. Upon arriving in Cornwall, they headed for a Presbyterian church in the Lost Villages near Ingleside and got married. The pair returned to England not long after, and Adam continued to pursue his film interests. In 2005, he directed "The Day The Whole World Went Away", which won best film in the Kingston Upon Hull film festival.
After five years oversees, the couple moved to back to Canada on a permanent basis, first settling near Cornwall. It was around that time that Adam, Jean and I all worked together at the Kraft cheese plant in Ingleside. The couple planned to gather up their savings and head west to Vancouver, where Adam would persue his film interests.
I recall a brief conversation or two with Adam about film and acting while we were at Kraft. Just prior to us meeting, I had gotten invloved in the filming of an episode of Creepy Canada, dealing with the so - called haunting of the Cornwall Jail. As it turned out, Adam inquired too late, and all the "actor" positions had been filled - one of them by me. We had a good laugh as I told him about playing the role of a priest, waiting nine hours in pre production for a 20 minute shoot. The results were low budget, to say the least. Adam, missed out on little!
Adam is now slowly breaking into the film and TV world in western Canada, and is having great fun at it. He recently filmed the red carpet for the Juno Awards, capturing Bryan Adams, and other Canadian rock royalty.
He's currently working on an indie project for a local Vancouver station with an estimated audience of 60,000. It is a late night talk show idea. As Adam puts it, he has "gotten out of the acting rat race, prefering to make my own opportunities with the show I am shooting and producing."
Adam has a website that is in the works - www.adamcoyleroach.com - where he will post film clips and launch more than a few ideas.
I've got an idea for Adam - How about a movie on a British hockey player that gets thrown in the slammer for trying to escape the country with his girlfriend.
I've played a priest - I could maybe marry them in jail!