Wearing number 7 for the Concordia Stingers, Mary-Jane Roper is one of the leaders on the club’s defense. With a young group of players, Roper’s experience and character make for leadership abilities. A bronze medalist in the 2007 Canada Winter Games in the relay speed skating event, Roper is a gifted and remarkable multi-talented athlete that is working tirelessly to return the Stingers to the postseason.
After a speed skating career in which Roper showed tremendous potential, Roper came to a decision to abandon the sport, while continuing on in hockey. She reflected on the difficulty of the decision and the option to pursue hockey.
“I had to make a decision when I was 15 whether I wanted to continue full time with hockey or speed skating. My parents would have supported both, but I was looking into the future and wanted to take one of the sports to the highest level that I could for myself. It was a really hard decision which one I would choose to follow. When it came down to it, I had always dreamed of going away to prep school and playing hockey, and I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
“It's funny because I was probably a better speed skater than I was hockey player but I really loved the team aspect of hockey, and I knew that with hockey I would have the opportunity to play at the university level which was also another dream of mine.”
With speed skating, the route is unfortunately a lot harder and more expensive. I probably would have had to move to Montreal or Calgary and find a school to attend just to train with the best skaters in the country.”
A dedicated team player, Roper’s team-first approach and her commitment to education made her perfect for hockey. “With hockey, they have the boarding school option where everything is a package deal and you don't have to worry about the details. I miss speed skating a lot though and it was a hard transition because speed skating was always my primary sport, so I've always been behind the eight ball with my hockey skills. Not to mention, I still struggle with sharp right turns,” she joked.
Along with her brother Marc, she joined Notre Dame College in the autumn of 2007 to continue her playing career. With a school that produced many great women’s players such as Taylor Woods, Olivia Howe, Mandi Schwartz (where a tournament is named in her honor), and Tamber Tisdale, Roper was part of elite company.
At Notre Dame, Roper continued to excel as a multi-sport star, qualifying for the Hounds soccer squad as a walk-on. Overall, the opportunity to play for the Notre Dame Hounds is one that Roper sees as a positive one.
“Notre Dame was hands-down the best opportunity I have ever been given. It had an enormous impact on my life at the time when I was developing into a young woman and it still has a huge impact on me. The things I learned there, more off the ice than on the ice, has made the person I am today.”
“It has an amazing balance of helping kids excel in their sport and in their academics. Most of all, the teachers and coaches there focus on developing the character of the kids, helping them become better people. It's not like the typical 'boarding' schools that you hear about. It is a very laid back atmosphere, with down-to-earth people who care so much about you.”
“Notre Dame has taught me so much about life—how to enjoy it and appreciate everyone and everything around you for what it is. I cannot say enough good things about that school and it will always be special to me.”
With great maturity, Roper is not afraid to acknowledge that there was room for improvement when she joined Notre Dame. The patience and compassion shown towards her in the beginning was a great life lesson that led to developing more than just her game, but her leadership skills.
“On another note, the hockey life was obviously a great experience for me. I was surrounded by some of the best hockey players in Canada. I was way out of my league when I arrived, but my teammates were good to me and I really developed in my two years there. We were on the ice every day and almost every student at the school played hockey, so you had no choice but to improve. Being a part of such an intense hockey culture for two years was something really special.”
Her brother Marc also attended Notre Dame and competed on the boys' hockey squad. As he developed Crohn’s disease when he was younger, his courage and resiliency made him a role model. For Roper, her brother has certainly served as a big influence in her athletic career. Currently, he competes at Connecticut College.
“My brother and I have always been involved in sports, and even played on sports teams together when we were younger. So of course, from the beginning he's always been that person I've followed around and looked up to.”
“When we both decided we were going to go to Notre Dame, I thought it was a little weird at first. I always pictured I would be going off by myself to school. With both of us there, it felt so much more like home. We both play the same position and kind of have the same style of play. I've been watching him play since we were kids—travelling to a lot of his tournaments and such. So just from watching him play, he has definitely had a big influence on my hockey career.”
As one of the more experienced players on the Concordia defense, Roper employed great maturity in handling some offseason setbacks. “I've been through a lot with this team over the years. In September, we had some key veterans who unfortunately did not return and some of us had to step up and fill these roles pretty quickly. In the summer, I would not have guessed that I would have been a leader on the team because those roles were pretty well filled.”
In assuming a leadership role on the Stingers blueline, Roper has elevated her game. “I have been a captain on most of my sports teams before, so I felt that this year I also naturally fell into that position. Being a leader comes with passion and leading by example but also it is all about your teammates. I am a big people person and I like to be a leader in most things I do. Everyone has something to offer so I like to challenge myself to learn about everyone individually and how that can work as a whole.”
Like many of her teammates, Roper is heavily influenced by two Montreal Stars players. Heading into the 2012-13 Stingers season, three-time Clarkson Cup champion Caroline Ouellette joined the Stingers coaching staff. Along with fellow Stars teammate Lisa-Marie Breton (who serves the Stingers as a strength coach), this dynamic duo has had a positive impact on Roper.
“First off, Caroline and Liz are unbelievable role models for us and we are so lucky that we get the opportunity to work with them. Liz has been a positive influence from day one, especially off the ice. This year she really pushed us in our training sessions. For me personally, she has helped in encouraging a healthier lifestyle. She obviously gives us a good workout but helps with other aspects too, like setting goals and eating well.”
“Caroline has been tremendous on the ice. It was definitely intimidating at first because of her level of play. She focuses on skill development with us, so screwing up in front of her can just be embarrassing,” joked Roper.
As Ouellette is also a three-time Winter Games gold medalist, her tutelage has been one that Roper and her teammates truly treasure. “Yet, she is so patient with us and I just am amazed at how she sees the game. She always has a solution to a play that we did wrong and always has smart and simple answers that we can quickly put to use in a game situation. Our team just has so much respect for her that it makes us want to be better. We are truly fortunate to have that type of role model on the ice with us. We're definitely spoiled.”
While another missed chance at the postseason brings with it frustrations, Roper approaches the game with remarkable dignity and sportsmanship. Those traits not only reflect strong leadership, but strong character.
“Although people may wonder why, with all of these resources (we have), why we are in the place we are in. These two women have done their best for us. We are not the most skilled team in our conference and we lost a couple key players that we thought were coming back, so that hurt us. We have a young back end and we had some people who had to step up this year. We have definitely worked hard this year and although it is unfortunate we did not crack the playoffs, I am happy with the some of the strides we made together and we really became a family towards the end of the season.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”