Pickens' Perspective: Hockey icon hangs up his whistle
Published 3:06 pm, Thursday, January 19, 2012
Marty Roos was an institution.
He was high school hockey in Connecticut. He was tough, hard-nosed but lovable at the same time.
Sadly for us all, Roos has hung up his whistle after 536 victories.
The winningest coach in state hockey history resigned as coach of Notre Dame Catholic High School on Wednesday, midway through a season that had seen his Lancers struggle to a 3-6 season heading into a Thursday night game against powerhouse Hamden.
In a press release announcing his resignation, the 76-year-old coach said he knew intuitively it was time to go. "Even though Notre Dame is mid-season, I believe now is the right time."
Roos in recent years has been a grandfather figure to many. For the kids who played for him at Notre Dame and before that at Fairfield Prep, he was a role model.
Just ask ND athletic director Rob Bleggi. He served as Roos' assistant coach for years, even after he was promoted in 2010 to be Roos' boss as the AD. Roos' 21-year tenure at ND dates back to when Bleggi was a student at the school and played for him.
"Marty came to Notre Dame when I was a junior," Bleggi said in a press release. "To me Marty Roos and Notre Dame are synonymous."
But that wasn't always the case. Roos founded the Fairfield Prep hockey program and put it on the map, guiding the Jesuits to five straight state championship games, winning four of them.
He resigned from Prep in 1989, joining ND for the 1991-92 season. He coached there through Monday's practice.
He's lived in Fairfield for years, and owns and operates both the Milford and Northford Ice Pavilions.
From one institution to another, people in the hockey community say, Roos has shaped the way hockey is cherished in Fairfield and left an influence in the state.
"Mr. Roos was a fixture in Connecticut hockey," Fairfield Prep hockey coach Matt Sather said. "His hard-work and passion have helped build the sport in the state, and there are many Fairfield Prep and Notre Dame players who owe their love of the game to Mr. Roos.
Sather is a legend in his own right. His brother John played for Roos at Prep. When Matt Sather was a 5-foot-tall freshman at Prep, Roos was in his final year there and cut him.
Under Roos, ND-Fairfield was one of Prep's biggest rivals. The schools went head-to-head in the state finals in 2007 and 2008. ND and Prep traditionally meet twice a year, and Sather appreciates those contests.
"Coaching against Mr. Roos was a pleasure and a challenge," Sather said. "His teams were always tough and well prepared."
Classy, tough, well-prepared are the traits colleagues ascribe to him.
He was so well-respected, too. How could you not respect a guy who more games than anyone else in the state?
"Competitors used to go to Marty for advice," Bleggi said in a phone interview Thursday. "He's respected by every high school coach in the state."
Roos is a hockey relic, one who takes us back to a different time. A time when kids were more teachable, a time before the Internet, Twitter and social media.
He wasn't afraid to take on the best. Some teams pad their schedules with lightweights simply to reach the state playoffs. When they reach the tournament, they're exposed as frauds.
Roos believed that if a team couldn't beat the best, it shouldn't be in the tournament.
"If we can't beat the top teams more than 40 percent of the time, we don't belong," Roos said before the season. "We're not going to develop players and young men by easing up on them."
Before the season, Roos also told me he was frustrated by the exodus of kids from ND back to public schools or to prep schools. He said he and his team would just have to work harder to offset the departures. Maybe with advancing age it was too much.
Maybe watching his talent depart was too much for him to take. Maybe failing to make states last season for the first time in 18 years -- and potentially missing them again this year -- was too much for the consummate winner to take. Still, the timing is odd.
"That's not Marty, to quit like this," Bleggi said. "Marty's belief was you can get whatever you want if you work hard enough, and he's lived his life that way."
Whatever the reason, it's sad to see him go. We need more coaches like like Marty Roos and fewer people-pleasing politicians.
ND's president, the Rev. Bill Sangiovanni, said it best.
"Words cannot express my admiration and appreciation for Marty Roos and his contributions to not only Notre Dame Hockey but to the whole Notre Dame community," he said. "Personally, it's a huge void for me."
It's a huge void for all of us.