Michael “Mickey” Richard Roach cultivated his natural hockey talent resulting in the most successful professional hockey career out of all the USNAHL players. Roach played for 21 seasons. Following that, he coached nearly 6 seasons of professional hockey and another 11 seasons of coaching Senior Amateur hockey. Roach’s coaching career focused on cultivating the talent in others rather than himself.
Born on 1 May 1895, Mickey Roach, a second-generation Nova Scotian, left the Maritimes for Boston in time to start high school. He attended Boston English High School with tailored curriculum towards the trades. Even as early as the 1912/13 season, he played on two teams, English H.S. and the Boston Arena intramural Skate Boys. Listed as Roche, the Boston Globe named him to their All Interscholastic second team for hockey. For the 1913/14 season, Roach moved on from the Skate Boys to the Pilgrim Athletic Association team while still playing for English H.S. Once again, the Boson Globe named Roach, as “Roache”, to its Interscholastic team. But, placed him in the first team along with Frank Downing, Robert Paisley, and Percy Wanamaker. Roach’s skill and determination to develop that skill were evident.
After graduating, Roach played on the Boston Arenas for two seasons, but was driven for more. Much like the English and Huntington school teams, the Boston Arenas were limited to local play. The Boston Athletic Association team played in the developing intercity amateur hockey league. Despite his preeminence in Boston hockey circles, he moved to New York City in time for the 1916/17 season.
For the next two years, Roach played in the greater New York City league. First, he played with the Crescent during the 1916/17 season. In a four-team intercity league, the Crescents lost in the final match to the Boston Arenas. In 1917, World War I finally caught up to the United States. Amateur hockey greatly changed resulting in the creation of the U.S. National Amateur Hockey League (USNAHL). Roach, a clerk for the BonBright investment bank, played on Cornelius Fellowes’ New York Wanderers. In November 1918, the war also finally caught with Roach. He became a Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) cadet and traveled back to Toronto to start training.
Always looking for hockey, Roach picked up the uniform and picked up the stick. On 14 December 1918, the R.A.F. played one exhibition game against the Dentals in Ontario Hockey Association’s (O.H.A.) Senior A division. The R.A.F. bowed out of the season. Roach and Thomas “Flash” McCarthy, who joined him from New York, joined the Hamilton Tigers for the remainder of the season. This move started Roach’s NHL playing career.
Starting with the St. Pats in 1920, he played seven seasons in the newly formed NHL. He moved from the Toronto St. Pats to the Hamilton Tigers, who elevated from the amateur ranks. For the 1924/25, Roach moved with the Tigers. Bill Dwyer renamed the Tigers to the New York Americans, referred as the Amerks, and moved them to New York City. As a result, the Amerks and Roach were the first hockey team to play in Tex Rickard’s Madison Square Garden in December 1925. While Roach finished his NHL career in New York City, he continued to play on for three more seasons in the minor leagues.
While playing with the St. Pats, Roach married Elsie Alida Tobey, an Ontario native, in March 1920. Even though Roach played in Ontario, he established his family back in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. In April 1921, his first son, Clifford Roach, was born there. However, not all of his four children could claim a Nova Scotia start. On 8 November 1922, their second son, Warren, originated in Boston. Finally, Ontario was home to his two daughters, Elsie and Eleanor. Despite the numerous locales for key life events, they called Nova Scotia home.
Roach’s last season as player was the 1929/30 season with the Buffalo Bisons. The Bisons participated in the International Hockey League after the dissolution of the Canadian Professional Hockey League. In 1930, Roach accepted a manager/coach position with the Buffalo Bisons. In this new role, he started developing players for the NHL. From 1930 until 1936, Roach coached the Bisons, Syracuse Stars and, very briefly, the Rochester Cardinals. Roach left as a consistent contender, but never a winner, among team financial troubles and politics.
Retiring from professional coaching, he refused to let hockey go. Initially, he attempted to organize a Senior A team for O.H.A. Eventually, he received an appointment to coach the Niagara Falls Brights in Dec 1938. In Feb 1939, he resigned this position and moved back to Nova Scotia.
The Cape Breton league challenged for the Allan Cup, which was familiar ground for Roach. For the 1939/40 season, he sought to win with the North Sydney Victorias. At the time, Maritime Senior A hockey teams desired to claim the Allan Cup from the Halifax Wolverines. In 1941/42, he coached the Sydney Millionaires on a strong Cup challenge but fell short.
As war crept back in Roach’s life, he switched to coaching the Navy teams in the Cape Breton League. At the time, Cliff was playing his top game. Meanwhile, Warren joined the US Navy. By September 1953, Mickey Roach retired from hockey and settled into his Customs job. Although a few of his teams made strong challenges, he never coached an Allan Cup winning team.
With the exception of the 1918/19 Hamilton Tigers, Mickey Roach finished second more times than not. Whether as a player or coach, most teams were strong contenders with his participation. In recognition of his playing skills, the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame honored him in their initial inductions. In addition to the playing and coaching careers, he raised two sons in the hockey tradition. Cliff played briefly for the Providence Reds in the AHL. As for his daughters, Elsie Corinne died shortly after birth and Eleanor probably lived a quiet life. In 1977, Mickey Roach’s passage received more attention in the States than in Canada. It is assumed his wife, Elsie, passed away some time after. When compared to Herb Drury, Frenchy LaCroix and other USNAHL players, Mickey Roach was the most successful hockeyist.
NOTE: Misspellings of his last name, especially in the Boston Globe, are Roache, Roark, and Roche. Elsie’s middle name also changes greatly from Alida, Ileeda, and Illita in government records.