News

Carrying on a hockey fan’s legacy

By Jess Myers

The weather almanac – that table that records the time of sunrise and sunset every day – will tell you that Dec. 21, is the darkest day of the year. And in this part of the world, it’s often one of the coldest as well.

But for the hockey community in Inver Grove Heights, Dec. 21, 2011, seemed colder and darker than they could ever imagine. That was they day that, after a two-year battle with cancer, their friend and neighbor Kevin Roche slipped quietly from this world, leaving a hole in many hearts.

Just 41 at the time of his passing, Roche’s smile had been, for years, as common a sight at the local hockey rink as a puck or a net or a Zamboni. When the diagnosis grounded him from his career as an airline pilot, he’d thrown his free time and efforts into one of his other loves – youth hockey – serving on the IGH Hockey Association’s board of directors, running the arena’s concession stand, helping his two children get the most out of their time on the ice, and working each winter to create a top-notch place to skate in their backyard, known throughout the community as the Roche Rink.

A few days after Christmas last year, an overflow crowd packed Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to say goodbye. So many airline pilot friends, in full uniform, filled the sanctuary that dozens of chairs had to be set up in the narthex, and the running joke was that countless planes must be sitting grounded at MSP, for lack of anyone to fly them. When the ceremony ended, and his family filed out, they were greeted by several teams of youth hockey players from the community, all wearing their red, white and blue IGH sweaters, and holding their sticks aloft in a salute to their lost friend.

Kevin and his wife of 16 years, Wendy, had met as students at the University of North Dakota. She studied to be a teacher, while he majored in aviation. When they were blessed with children – son Kyle and daughter Sofia – they became hockey parents. And one of Kevin’s great joys was spending time at the rink.

As a member of the association board during a time of high unemployment and economic challenges, Kevin had seen first-hand the unpaid bills from families that had struggled due to a variety of factors to afford their children’s hockey fees. With the many financial gifts they received from friends when Kevin passed away, Wendy determined that a fund to help families in need pay for hockey would be the perfect way to remember and honor him.

“So many people have been kind to us throughout this that I felt this would be a good way to pay it forward,” said Wendy, sitting in the lobby of Veterans Memorial Community Center in IGH recently, while waiting for one of the kids to emerge from the locker room after practice. “I thought there were probably other families that were struggling with paying for hockey fees. Kevin was a strong believer in keeping kids on the rink, so I thought this would be a good way to fuse all of those things together.”

The Kevin Roche Memorial Assistance Fund was established over the summer, and while registering for hockey in IGH, families in need were encouraged to apply for a grant to help defray the cost of ice time for the season.

“We helped four families this year,” said Wendy, who teaches elementary school. “That feels very good. I don’t know all of them, and that’s OK. We’re really big about confidentiality, but they all have reasons why they needed support.”

The initial donations, made both on the IGH Hockey Association web site (www.ighha.org) and to the account set up at Wells Fargo Bank, will sustain the fund for the first three years. Beyond that, the Roche family is hopeful that others will step up with on-going donations to ensure that the fund in Kevin’s name lives on and keeps providing fiscal assistance.

Throughout Kevin’s battle with cancer, and over the course of the past year, the Roche family has seen an outpouring of support, including a gentleman from an arena supply company that read about Kevin’s passing, then stopped by the Roche Rink and set up full boards, free of charge. Wendy acknowledges that without Kevin’s meticulous and exacting upkeep, the rink is not what it once was, but it will still be a place for fun this winter, and another great memory of him will endure.

“We still have the rink, but it’s not in as good shape as when Kevin was in charge of it,” Wendy said. “It might be in bad shape this year, but it will still be usable, eventually. But it’s still Roche Rink, and everybody is welcome at Roche Rink.”
 
To make a donation to, or apply for financial aid from the Kevin Roche Memorial Assistance Fund, please visit www.ighha.org. Donations may also be made through Wells Fargo Bank or via e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..