T.J. Roo in hockey game action against Spring Lake Park. Marlin Levison, Star Tribune
While hockey players such as Apple Valley's Hudson Fasching and Benilde-St. Margaret's Grant Besse received more accolades for their freshmen exploits last season, Totino-Grace forward T.J. Roo compiled some impressive numbers.
Roo tied for the team lead with 24 goals and ranked first with 25 assists. Now a sophomore, Roo's 16 goals and 24 assists through 17 games prove he is no one-year wonder. His father, Jim, a former defenseman at Bemidji State, said the difference is in T.J.'s demeanor.
"I think last season he was just happy to be up on varsity," Jim said. "This year, he's trying to play smarter, he is talking with his teammates more – he's really become a self-advocate."
This approach is also vital in the classroom. Roo has dyslexia, a learning disability that can hinder a person's ability to read, write and sometimes speak. Roo sometimes mixes up letters or numbers when reading.
"I could be reading the word "with" but I'll say "was" because they both start with a W," Roo said. "I have to look at words closely and read them twice. So I know I'm not the fastest reader in the school."
Jim offers a similar assessment of his son on the ice.
"He is not slow but he's not fast," Jim said. "His strength is that he anticipates things so well. He's been playing a lot smarter."
Likewise, Roo has learned to work smarter in the classroom. He first took summer tutoring sessions in grade school and learned how to better study and prepare for tests. Even now he is sure to ask questions in class and will even ask a teacher to read some things aloud. He is allowed more time to take tests and uses it to re-check his work.
Roo said his mother, Karen, a teacher at Coon Rapids High School who works with students who struggle academically, advised him to "ask a lot of questions and make sure I understand something before moving on."
Roo's goal each semester is to achieve a 3.0 grade point average, and he is three-for-three thus far in his high school career.
Hockey has supplemented Roo's education. After Totino-Grace lost 9-2 to Benilde-St. Margaret's on Jan. 22, Eagles players aimed their frustrations at one another before taking responsibility for themselves.
Two days later, Totino-Grace took the ice against two-time defending Class 1A state champion Breck. Playing with an edge against the Mustangs, Roo scored twice in the third period and the Eagles skated to an uplifting 6-3 victory.
"He has been blessed with the ability to see the game in slow motion so he almost always makes the play no one else sees," Eagles coach Mark Loahr said. "He is going to go a long way in hockey if he wants to, and I think he does."
"I'd like to play college hockey some day," Roo said. "I've just got to keep working hard to keep my grades up."