From the day Brandon Roach left Bay Roberts at 17 to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, his sights were fixed firmly on a pro hockey career.
Eight years later, the defenceman came to a sobering realization about his dream.
“There are so many young guys coming through, that once they are drafted and signed by an organization, I can’t take their spot because NHL teams want to develop those players,” he says.
“I’m not going to get much of a shot, outside the ECHL.”
Two years ago, Roach split the season between the American Hockey League’s Quad City Flames and the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. In 20 games with the Flames, Roach had a goal, seven assists and eight minutes in penalties.
“I thought I might have earned a spot for myself or given someone a run for a job,” he said of his time with Calgary’s AHL farm team
Alas, Roach entered the 2009-10 hockey season without receiving a single training camp invitation from an NHL organization or AHL team. So it was back to the ECHL, this time with the Victoria Salmon Kings, for whom he registered 17 points in 64 games.
This was followed by another off-season without NHL or AHL offers. That, combined with a lack interest from European pro teams, had Roach conceding that maybe, “(pro) hockey wasn’t the course to take.”
He decided to return home and start thinking and planning for a future that didn’t include playing professionally.
But his hockey days are far from over. He now finds himself manning the blueline for the Conception Bay North Eastlink CeeBee Stars of the Subway Avalon East senior league.
“I knew there was a lot of interest in me back home, and there was some decent money to be made,” said Roach.
Roach suggests some players in the province’s other senior hockey circuit — the West Coast Senior Hockey League — are making money comparable to that the salaries a middle of the pack ECHLer.
However, he says there’s a significant difference between what’s offered to top-shelf talent in the Avalon East compared to the WCSHL.
Roach believes the majority of the province’s players hail from this side of the island, and says many of them, “would love to stay home and make some money.”
Roach fielded numerous offers from senior teams across the island, but in the end settled on the CeeBees and the chance to play alongside some minor hockey teammates — players such as Matthew Thomey, Tommy Snow and goalie Bronson Dawe.
“After eight years of being away, being able to hang your hat for a while and stay around your back door is pretty nice,” says Roach, who works in the family business.
CeeBees’ bench boss Ian Moores, who coached Roach with the major midget TriPen Frost in 2001-02, insists the blueliner is, “capable of playing pro hockey.
“And I mean the NHL,” Moores says.
“I know that’s a big statement to make, but unfortunately for Brandon, he never got the breaks along the way he needed.
“But he is that good.”
Among Roach’s talents, Moores lists his great vision and a great set of hands as big factors in his game.
He’s known as an offensive defenceman, although that wasn’t always the case.
Asa 17-year-old with the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Castors, he has one assist in 63 games, but after the franchise shifted to Lewiston, Me., his points production dramatically increased. In 2005-06, as captain of the Maineiacs, he had 18 goals and 62 points in 66 games.
After one year attending and playing for Acadia University, Roach began a three-year odyssey that took him over the continent, from Fort Myers, Fla., where he had 34 points in 64 games for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades; to Elmira, N.Y., where he had 32 points in 55 games with the Jackals; on to the Nebraska-Illinois border and his AHL stint in Quad Cities; and finally to the Pacific and Victoria.
After reversing his cross-continent trek, he has played eight games with the Ceebees. He has four assists and is still seeking his first senior hockey goal.
Asked why Roach’s offence has stalled, Moores says, “you can look throughout the lineup and ask that same question of other guys I’d consider great offensive players.”
Moores chalks it up to the 6-2, 200-pounder just not getting the bounces.
“He’s played very well and he’s certainly a high plus-minus player for us. Brandon’s going to be there for us. The offence will definitely come.”
Roach is also unconcerned with stats.
“I’m not the type of player who’s going to bitch and bawl about points. If people want to judge me by what’s on a scoresheet, that’s their decision,’ he says.
“At the end of the night, as long as we win the game, whether I get no points or 10, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Winning for the CeeBees this season isn’t coming as easily as most would expect for a team loaded with senior hockey veterans and Herder winners. The CeeBees lost back-to-back games to the Northeast Rona Eagles and Mount Pearl H.J. Bartlett Electric Blades last weekend.
Roach says it reminds him of last season in ECHL when the Salmon Kings, on paper at least, were expected to run away with the league (they didn’t, finishing 34-32-0-6).
“We had so much skill, it was hard to get a good chemistry going between lines. Here, we have so many good players, it’s hard to find a good chemistry right now. But guys are starting to get used to each other.”
The CeeBees meet the Bell Island Family Drug Mart Blues 7:15 p.m. Sunday at Msgr. Bartlett Memorial Arena in Wabana in a game originally scheduled for Dec. 18. The teams were to meet Saturday at S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium in Harbour Grace, but the game is postponed until after the Christmas Break.