For Abby Roque, its been a long 12 months with many unanswered questions due to COVID-19. Starting when she graduated college, the 23-year-old committed in May to the PWHPA to launch her professional hockey journey.
Doing so amid lockdowns and quarantine, the righty just continued to train, with no travelling or showcases in sight to look ahead to. Instead, the U.S. National Women’s Team Member was named to the roster for the Minnesota training hub, where she’s been working out with her teammates and coaching staff.
“I think that can be the hardest part, we were talking about how sometimes, it can be a very difficult thing to have to train without knowing what exactly you’re training for at the end of it, there’s not a date, there’s not a set game and I think that can be challenging, but I think mentally, it’s just to keep pushing forward and know that at the end line, there will be something worth training for and putting all this work in,” Roque said.
“I think physically, we’ve been training a lot, the Minnesota region, we skate together, we workout together all week, and I think that’s been making it easier because we all have each other to push each other, and honestly, hockey’s just a fun sport. Like, we go the rink and we have so much fun with each other and get to play, and for a while during the beginning of COVID, we couldn’t play, we couldn’t get on the ice. I think that’s just something to be grateful for and I think that makes it easier to go out there and push yourself, not knowing when the next game will be, when the next event will be, just because you’re grateful to be able to skate at all.”
Fast forward to December 23rd, the PWHPA jointly announced with Bill Flanagan that they would be sending a roster of 24 to Wesley Chapel, Florida for the Hub City Tampa event. Playing with the USPHL, it was the first glimmer of hope for the rookie, who had yet to compete since her final collegiate game.
Taking part in the two-week event, the roster consisted of players who were named to the rosters for Minnesota and New Hampshire. Much like those she flew down with, it allowed her to compile some ice time while working on drills they couldn’t run due to lockdown regulations.
While that element of uncertainty remained, training hubs continued to gather with anticipation of competition on the horizon. That would bring us to February 3rd when Jayna Hefford and her team jointly announced their first NHL partnership with the New York Rangers.
Stated in the official press release, this agreement with the Rangers would include a historic venue for the Secret Dream Gap Tour. That being Madison Square Garden, the PWHPA said this opportunity would help market the showcase with the world’s best players.
Setting out on a mission to advance equity, the PWHPA announced the stop in New York would be a two-game series, aired on national television. However, given the inactivity, Bill Flanagan extended a second invite to 22 players to get some work in ahead of it. Putting together that roster, Roque was selected as one of 13 forwards.
They played five games at AdventHealth Center Ice while Jayna Hefford and her team were hard at work. While that allowed the American to get loose, Roque also worked in Tampa Bay to prepare for the tour with former forward, Glen Metropolit.
Hosted Saturday night in New Jersey, the opener, played at ProTech Ponds Ice Centre, was nationally televised on CBC Sports. For the native of Sault Ste. Marie, MI, her debut was as perfect as she could have imagined.
Despite a sluggish start in the first, Minnesota didn’t waste time moving forward, touching up little things to take the edge on Team Adidas. Led by Nicole Hensley in the net, both sides managed to hold their own until Hayley Scammura broke open the scoring.
The goal, scored with two minutes left, gave Minnesota the lead on an assist from Gigi Marvin. They didn’t stay ahead for very long, as Savannah Harmon then quickly responded, banking the puck in past Burt to knot the game up at one. It was then that Abby Roque got her night started with a between-the-legs move following a break-in from Ryleigh Houston.
After 40 minutes of play, Minnesota led in shots, 25-22. Taking to the ice for the final frame, Minnesota continued to carry their own weight, with another nine shots added early in Somerset. While a back-and-forth half promptly ensued, Abby Roque once again got the ball rolling with a primary assist on a goal from Ryleigh Houston. Doing so with nine minutes left, this gave Team Adidas a 2-1 lead over Team Women’s Sports Foundation.
With two assists already on the evening, Abby Roque wasn’t quite done there, as she tallied her first goal to triple Minnesota’s lead. Assisted by Ryleigh Houston, the goal, scored at 12:48, would see the duo citizen also add her third point.
Running with it and never looking back, Minnesota took full advantage, as they tacked on one more with just 3:40 remaining. Once again, it was the 5’7 rookie, as she put Minnesota up ahead 4-1. Her fourth point of the evening was only the icing on top of the cake.
“I think in the third, just as a team, we kind of put a lot of pressure on them and I think it also helps when our first line is up against their first line because I didn’t have to play against their first line a lot, at all, and that kind of opens me up to do different things and I think that’s helpful as well, but I think it opens everybody up actually to something else and I think that was just one of the main things, was just like, towards the third I think is when we all started to kind of click, like Decker was just saying how its been a while since we played against girls, we’ve been playing against boys teams and things like that, so I think it took a second to adjust, it’s a different game, it’s a different speed, it’s a different wave length really and I think that was where in the third, I think it started to kind of click again,” Roque said.
Helping to solidify the victory, it was Kendall-Coyne Schofield with a laser out in front on an assist from Kelly Pannek that all but sealed the deal. Doing so with 2:20 left, it not only put them up 5-1, but also resulted in a shot lead of 10.
Not backing down without a fight, Gigi Marvin, with one minute left, brought New Hampshire within one, now trailing by three. Not enough to overcome the deficit, that handed team Adidas the extra point in the standings and a 5-2 victory.
Riding on the heels of a hot start, Roque, for her contributions, was named as Canadian Tire Player of the Game. Named as the game’s first star, her second goal of the evening was selected as the Budweiser Goal of the Game.
Discussing her impressive debut, she said via press conference a short time later, “I don’t think I was expecting this out of today honestly,” Roque said. “I’ve never been big on points in itself standing for how well I play, I think obviously they’re nice to have and you need to score and get assists obviously to win and that’s part of the thing, is just contributing to the team by making that stuff happen, but I think there’s some stuff in the defensive zone I definitely could have cleaned up and I think that’s something that through the game, I was just noticing and trying to get better at by the third, and I think there’s just little things like that, cleaning that up, cleaning up some puck battles and things and I think carrying that over to the third is what helped me in that period, but definitely always room to improve for me, that’s how I kind of play my game. You gotta to be happy with your success, but also be able to carry over what you can improve on.”
Moral of the story, Roque is just getting started and setting the tone for her professional hockey career. As she stated following her breakout on Saturday, “Go to the net, good things can happen.”