I am honored to say that I am the person responsible for hiring Roger Oldaker as a coach with the Canon-McMillan Hockey Association, a job and organization that became near and dear to his heart. I’m even more honored to say that Roger became one of my closest friends from that time and beyond. I can best sum up Roger by describing my relationship with Roger’s son Brett.
The first role I played in Brett Oldaker’s life was being his coach when he was still in middle school. Roger and I coached Brett’s team together and really forged a strong friendship that, like most of Roger’s friendships, would never be broken. In fact, it really just grew stronger over time and extended well beyond the hockey rink. Our entire coaching staff that year formed a bond that to this very day remains deep, and Roger was very much at the heart of that.
I’ve also been a mentor to Brett, including the countless hours me and Roger spent talking about Brett’s future, his current challenges, and his complicated choices. Roger always wanted the best for Brett and went to no end to ensure that would happen. At times, Roger was really just trying to get himself more educated on the hockey world so he could be a better father and leader to his son. I learned from him that’s what good dads do.
I’ve been a sports agent for Brett, trying to make sure he got noticed by all the right scouts and all the right coaches. I certainly did this to help Brett along, but Brett was more than capable of getting noticed without my help. But I did it anyway, mainly so Roger would see it and quit worrying that Brett would never get noticed. This still wasn’t about Roger, though; it was about the hopes and dreams of Roger’s son.
I’ve been a big brother to Brett at times too, especially when we’d team up to make fun of Roger’s age or gray hair or unfashionable old sweatshirt or whatever else we could pin on him. Roger’s response to one such stab we took at him on Facebook was “You know, every time you and Brett get to talking, I end up getting bashed!” I can’t say that Roger necessarily enjoyed this kind of attention, but I am very sure that he loved to laugh, even when it was at his own expense.
I’ve felt like an uncle to Brett when I’d be one of the first people Roger would call to boast about something special Brett had done. And that happened often… partly because Brett has done a lot of really special things, but mostly because Roger loved singing praises about the younger Oldaker at every opportunity. But I still loved to hear it every time, largely because the passion in Roger’s voice would always draw me right in and warm my heart.
More often than anything else, though, I’ve simply been an admiring fan of Brett, watching him go from being a quiet, upstanding young man that’s really good at hockey to… well… a quiet, upstanding young man that’s really good at hockey. Brett is consistent, I’ll give him that. Very similar to the consistent smile and unwavering joy Roger exuded to every person he met. You will not find anyone with a bad thing to say about Roger. In reality, he too had his own set of admiring fans.
But one role I never had to be for Brett was a father figure. That’s because he already had a great one of those who always did that job extraordinarily well. Above all else, Roger loved being a dad. Make no mistake about it – the cherished picture of Roger standing between Brett and Blair on the ice at Mellon Arena after Canon-McMillan won the Penguins Cup in 2010 was one of the absolute greatest moments in that man’s life. But very little of that scene was really about the sport he loved, the school where he coached, or even the prestigious trophy they had just won. That moment was about Roger Oldaker feeling like the most-blessed father on the planet. And he probably was. The giant smile on his face says it all – a passionate man and a wonderful dad through and through.
When that particular season ended for Canon-McMillan, Roger made sure I got a special invitation to the CM hockey banquet, where he stood at the podium and personally thanked me in front of everyone for my contributions to the CM Hockey program. He also told a story of how I was the first person to greet Joey Mottiqua when he came off the ice after scoring the game-winning goal in the semi-finals. I was also the first person there for Joey when he left the ice after blaming himself for an overtime loss in the state final. And I will tell you in no uncertain terms that I learned how to be there to lift up people just the same in victory and in defeat because of the very same example I saw out of Roger himself. He’d do the same for Brett or Joey… or me or anyone he knew. So I have no doubt that when my time comes to pass through the pearly gates of heaven, the first person that will be there to greet me will be a jovial Roger Oldaker.
So as we lay Roger’s body to rest and commend his soul to the Almighty, I pray his loved ones are eternally touched by how much Roger meant to me and to every individual he came in touch with. God has called home one of his good and faithful servants; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord, my friend.
Yours in Christ,