Muskie hockey team honours Roach brothers

It is one of the more storied names in Muskie hockey history.
For a decade beginning in the early 1970s, fans packed the stands at the old Memorial Arena on Friday nights and cheered as three brothers—Billy “Pic” Roach, Don Roach, and Randy Roach—starred on their respective Muskie teams.
During the black-and-gold’s recent awards banquet, a special ceremony was held honouring the Roach family for their dedication and contribution to the Muskie hockey program.
“Those were the greatest years of my life,” Don Roach said after the ceremony. “Growing up and playing for the Muskies.”
But while he was touched by the ceremony, Don Roach did have one regret.
“I was wishing my other brother, Billy, had been there,” he said, before pausing to add “and Randy.”
“More Randy because he’s gone.”
Randy Roach passed away in 1999.
Fort High vice-principal Dan Bird, who presented a plaque and jersey to Don Roach, said the idea to honour the family arose from a phone call he received late last year.
“We received a phone call in December and a request was made wondering if we could do something—a ceremony or a plaque presentation to Mrs. [Kathleen] Roach,” he noted.
“The original request was to have the #9 Muskie hockey jersey retired but [instead] we, in administration, decided to honour the number and present Mrs. Roach with a plaque honouring both her and each of the Roach boys for their contribution to Muskie hockey.
“She [Mrs. Roach] put three boys through Muskie hockey and all three of them made great contributions to the team,” Bird added. “People who grew up here and have loved Muskie hockey all remember the Roach boys.”
It would be difficult to forget the Roachs given their long list of hockey achievements.
Each was immediately recognizable to even the most casual fan as they all wore the #9 jersey for the black-and-gold during their respective stints with the team.
Each was a leader on the ice, with Billy (1974-75) and Don (1976-77) serving as captains while Randy (1980-82) was an assistant captain.
But perhaps most importantly to the fans, each was a winner.
Billy Roach led the Muskies to NorWOSSA titles in 1972-73 and 1974-75. Younger brothers Don and Randy went one better, winning NorWOSSA titles every year they played.
The younger Roach brothers also were part of silver-medal winning teams at the all-Ontarios (Don in 1975-76 and Randy in 1981-82).
“They probably epitomized Muskie hockey because they were the types of players who really made high school hockey exciting,” former Muskie head coach Doug McCaig remarked.
“They did a lot of things that were really dynamic and they really played with a lot of heart.
“I think it’s a real deserved honour.
“They kind of kept Muskie hockey going,” McCaig added. “In those days, we used to get a full house at the rink every Friday night and those guys really set the kids on fire. It was really exciting.
“They always came through . . . every one of them.”
McCaig, who was most familiar with Billy and Don, had fond memories of both.
“He would set the team on fire,” McCaig said of Billy Roach. “When he was going, everyone was going. He was a very, very exciting hockey player. He was very skilled and very exciting.”
Billy Roach also was notorious around the league for his willingness to mix it up and play a hard physical style.
“He was a banger,” McCaig reminisced with a chuckle.
“He had a big head of hair and I can remember one time we went up to Dryden and they had ‘Wanted’ signs out for him all over the school,” McCaig added.
Don Roach was the next brother to come through the Muskie program after Billy left. McCaig’s fondest memory of Don centered around the fierce rivalry between the Muskies and International Falls Broncos.
“I can remember one time we were playing the Broncos across the river and Donnie wasn’t getting much ice time,” McCaig recalled.
“His sisters were behind me [in the stands] and they started chanting, ‘Put on Roach! Put on Roach!’ It was a tie game 3-3 and I said, ‘OK, you want to do something big? Here’s your chance. Way you go.’
“He went out on the ice and scored the game-winning goal. I’d never felt so good about having my bluff called,” he added.
After McCaig retired from coaching the Muskies in 1981-82, Terry Ogden took over the reins. He credited Randy Roach, the third brother to skate for the Muskies, with upholding what had become, by then, a family legacy.
“Randy was a very loyal Muskie,” Ogden extolled. “Muskie hockey ran very strong in the Roach family blood.
“It started with Billy . . . and along came Randy and I think he had the Roach tradition to follow. He was a very dedicated and hard-working player.”
While Randy did not possess the imposing size of either Billy or Don, Ogden believed the youngest Roach stood out on the ice for other reasons.
“Randy was a tireless skater . . . an extremely good skater,” he explained. “I think that was his greatest asset. The guy could just skate and skate and skate. He had great endurance.
“He was a very good player.”
Each of the three Roach brothers who donned the #9 jersey for the Muskies went on to play junior hockey after finishing their Fort High hockey careers.
Both Billy and Don went on to play with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Don suited up with hockey icon Wayne Gretzky) of the Ontario Hockey League while Randy went on to play for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League.
After his junior career, Billy Roach competed in Europe before he eventually retired from the game.
Billy Roach currently resides in Quesnel, B.C. with his wife and two sons, and coaches hockey in his spare time.
Don Roach returned to his hometown and now lives in Fort Frances.