A winning tradition: Roller hockey
Over this past weekend, I had the opportunity to set a record that kind of went unnoticed: I was the first player to win a national title as a goalie, then as coach, of the same team and then play against that team. On Jan. 28, the Washington University roller hockey team played against eight-time national champion St. Charles Community College.
My first run at college, actually, was at St. Charles back in 2003. I went to school there for two years and played hockey during two of the team’s six national title seasons. About two years later, I took over our legendary coach Chris “Pops” Marchand. We ended up having a shot at a national title my second year but we lost on a bad call in overtime during the championship game.
I know. Let it go—it’s just never as easy as it seems.
Players and coaches dedicate around nine months a year to practices, team functions and games. Coaching is really hard, and it’s even more difficult when you care about the players you coach. You realize that this might be the last time you get to reach out to some of them, and there were always more important lessons to be taught than just how to win hockey games. After that overtime loss, a piece of me just died. The look of disappointment on the players’ faces was something I will never forget. But, eventually, I realized that I had to move on. My assistant coach, Pat Ramshaw, had learned our system well, and I knew he would do a fine job. He had two great sons on the team, Ryan and Kurt.
The interesting part of this past Friday’s game against my old team wasn’t the eventual score but getting to play against players I had coached. Some of them hadn’t been able to finish their freshman seasons at St. Charles because of grades; we were one of the only programs that stressed academics over ability. That made it even greater to see that what we stressed to them really worked.
During the game that night, something special happened. It was my first chance to see the captain of the championship team during my tenure as a St. Charles assistant coach. Blake Propp was one of the best players I ever coached. He was a true leader, and had the heart of a lion. I teased him by saying he would end up being a coach someday. (A few players I coached from that championship team went on to coach at the collegiate level like Andy Meade and Jason Holzum.) It’s a great feeling to see your players giving back to the game.
After our Saturday game, I was greeted by several of my former players¬—Sean Daft, Brent Propp (Blake’s younger brother) and Mike Russell. Sean had been a true competitor those first two years he played at St. Charles. He really wanted to win. Brent was a player who had to sit out his second semester and not get the chance to play at nationals his freshman year. Mike was a player I might have pushed too hard his first year. He returned the second half of his freshman year and put the team on his back at nationals the year we lost.
Last year the boys at St. Charles ended up finally winning a national title. I watched the scoreboard online and celebrated from a distance. To see them all move on to greater things gave me the amazing feeling of what winning was really about: strength, courage and commitment.
Washington University lost Friday’s game 7-0, and Saturday’s game 11-1. We were outshot 128 to 21, but we played hard and never quit. Our young team is starting to come together though, and hopefully this spring we might get an invitation to the national tournament. That will be the first step for us to begin our own winning tradition.