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August 22, 2013

Roland made Header hockey a household name

Prepared. Focused. Determined. Meticulous. Ultra-competitive.

Any one of those phrases could have been used to aptly describe Bob Roland, the long-time leader of Marblehead High hockey who died this past weekend at age 79 after a lengthy battle.

If all you knew about Roland was that he insisted his team’s nickname was the Headers, and only the Headers — not Magicians, like every other sport at Marblehead High — then you got a sense of who the man was and how he ticked. But that really only scratches the surface on who this man, who won 415 games in his 35-year high school hockey coaching career and finished as one of the winningest coaches in state history, really was and what he meant to the hundreds of young men who played for him.

“It was an honor to play for him and wear that Marblehead sweater,” said Tom Colby, a star center for the Headers who graduated in 1973 and serves as an assistant coach for the team today. “Bob was a stickler for preparation and scouting long before it was in vogue, and it really paid off. That, teamed with his system for playing the game, gave Marblehead a huge lift.”

For much of Roland’s coaching tenure (1962-92 at Marblehead, plus four years at his alma mater, Lynn English, later in the ‘90s), there was only one division for hockey, meaning no matter how big or small your program was you were all thrown into the same pot come tournament time. And earning one of those coveted postseason berths was always a challenge; the qualifying standard at the time meant that you had to win 70 percent of your games. The state tournament was not for the weak of heart or those lacking in fortitude.

Roland’s Headers qualified for the postseason 10 straight seasons (1964-73) and 20 times overall, playing for the state championship in both 1964 (a loss to Arlington against one of his coaching mentors, the legendary Eddie Burns) and in 1985 (a setback to St. John’s Prep). The discipline he learned in the Army and serving in Special Services after he graduated high school in the 1950s shone through in his hockey team like a sheet of ice after the Zamboni had just finished resurfacing it; Marblehead was always well-conditioned, well prepared and feared no one. They believed if they stuck to Roland’s systems and hockey truisms that they’d find a way to win — and many more times than not, they did.

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