Physical play at her core, but Abby Roque also has offensive firepower for Badgers
Eighty-two games into her collegiate hockey career, Abby Roque still has times where she’s trying to discern the line between playing physical enough and playing too physical.
And when the NCAA hockey rules committee over the summer came out with some clarifications about the gray areas of body checking in the women’s game, Roque — a University of Wisconsin junior — was an interested party.
The intent from the committee was to better define what body checking is and, more critically, what it is not. Some penalty calls in past seasons were made on contact that didn’t rise to the level of an illegal check.
The refining of Rule 94 certainly found an engaged party in Roque, the most physical forward on the Badgers’ roster.
“Basically, I just know that you can still be physical,” she said. “You just can’t make blatant plays to try to hit the person before you attempt to get the puck.
“Being myself, most of the time I’m trying to get to the puck but I’m a little stronger and bigger so it gets myself in some situations where you just have to remember that sometimes you’ve got to take a notch off.”
It’s an evolution for Roque and the second-ranked Badgers (4-0), who host No. 4 Minnesota Duluth (2-1-1, 0-1-1-1) in their Western Collegiate Hockey Association opener on Saturday and Sunday at LaBahn Arena.
But as much as being a physical player is embedded in Roque’s core, it’s not the only trait she provides for the Badgers.
Take as evidence the hat trick she scored against Mercyhurst last Friday, her first three-goal game for the Badgers. That helped make her the WCHA’s forward of the week; teammate Mekenzie Steffen got the league’s defensive honors as UW swept the Lakers on the road.
Consider also she’s the defending WCHA forward of the year after leading the conference with 30 assists and 41 points.
There are multiple roles in Roque, but Badgers coach Mark Johnson said the team needs her playing them in a consistently controlled way.
“She’s a tough player to defend,” Johnson said. “She’s strong. She can be physical if it’s that type of game. But you have to draw that line. You have to play within the rules and play in the confines.
“So you don’t want to take penalties in situations where, just because I might be a little bit stronger than my opponent I put myself in a situation where I take a penalty.”
A Roque cross-checking penalty led to Mercyhurst’s tying power-play goal last Saturday. She later was called for body checking, a third penalty on the weekend to match her goal total.
How does she try to keep on the right side of the law without giving up the physical nature that’s key to her play?
“It’s tough, for sure,” Roque said. “You get used to it. I’d say my first year, coming right out of boys hockey, I would not even think about it. I would go into the boards thinking I was playing boys hockey all over again and I’d get a penalty. But now, as I see it, I’ll know I have to hold up for a second or bring the girl into the boards softer.”
This weekend, the Badgers face a Minnesota Duluth team headlined by 2018 U.S. Olympic goaltending star Maddie Rooney. In seven appearances against UW in two seasons before her Olympic-year redshirt, Rooney faced a barrage of shots and managed just a .913 save percentage and 4.07 goals-against average.
But Rooney is seen as a difference-maker around the WCHA this season, and that’ll get put to the test this weekend.
Roque, the second-line center between senior Sam Cogan and freshman Sophie Shirley so far this season, won’t be intimidated.
“We know she’s good,” Roque said. “We realize that she’s a good goalie and to score on her you’ve got to put good pucks on the net and you’ve got to really crash the net and get screens.”