Nov. 17, 2012
By: Times-Herald Record
WEST POINT - Larry Rocha wanted something unique for his son. He liked the way a friend spelled Shane. Different. Unique.
Life in the Rochas' Massachusetts household revolved around academia and accountability. The parents were teachers; mom later turned to sales and marketing. Cheyne Rocha wouldn't be allowed to play sports if his schoolwork weren't completed to satisfaction. And that included his main sport, hockey. But Candace and Larry Rocha never had to pull Cheyne out of sports. He was self-motivated. He wanted to squeeze every ounce of opportunity from life. Slacking off meant missing a chance to better himself.
He graduated Magna Cum Laude. He played for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs of the Eastern Junior Hockey League. Ivy League schools came calling.
Army was off Rocha's radar before hockey coach Brian Riley made his pitch. "You will sit in a room 30 years from now and say, 'I went to West Point'. And people in the room with you will say, 'That's something special.' ''
"I didn't want to leave something on the table,'' said Rocha, whose family moved to Rye, N.H., when he was 14.
Rocha began the exhaustive process of applying for a Rhodes Scholarship last season. It was another layer of work atop a grueling course load and playing Division I hockey.
But Rocha, a senior defenseman and alternate captain, had mastered the art of time management. He dived into something else, in addition to carrying a 4.0 grade point average (out of 4.33) as an engineering management major and playing major-college hockey and trying to become a Rhodes Scholar.
Rocha noticed the women's volleyball team raising awareness for breast cancer. He asked about getting the hockey team involved. Army officials suggested he gear his work toward prostrate cancer awareness.
Why hadn't Rocha thought of that. His father was a prostrate cancer survivor. Rocha inquired with the Atlantic Hockey Association about extending the charity into the league. "House of Blues'' was formed, so named after the color associated with prostrate cancer awareness, an annual game at West Point in which the Black Knights wear blue jerseys. It's now the league's preferred charity.
He found time to work with the Special Olympics and Neighborhood Knights, a group that provides community service, and volunteer with the Army Junior Black Knights hockey program and hold a leadership position in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"I try not to talk to him because he's so smart,'' Riley joked. "He's not the biggest guy. He's consistently one of the toughest guys in blocking shots. You gotta be a tough guy to throw yourself in front of a puck going 100 miles per hour.''
And now he's a Rhodes Scholarship finalist. Rocha will undergo a 20- to 30-minute interview on Saturday morning in Manhattan. He will be re-interviewed in the afternoon. He will learn on Saturday night if he's among 32 Rhodes Scholars in the country.
"It's definitely a tough arena,'' he said. "I'm a pretty calm person, especially when it comes to hockey. I think having confidence in myself will help.''
Rocha almost left West Point after his sophomore year. He had concerns about the five-year postgraduate military commitment. That summer, he spent three weeks as a squad leader working with incoming freshmen during Beast Barracks. A plebe expressed concerns about staying at the academy. "Try to gut it out,'' Rocha told him. "You don't want to leave and two weeks from now say, 'I should have stuck it out.' ''
Rocha realized he was also talking to himself. When Rocha finished his three weeks, the kid told him, "You are the reason I'm still here. I'm going to finish Beast.''
The freshman stuck it out and is doing great. Rocha stuck it out and is on the cusp of a Rhodes Scholarship.
He was asked what possesses him to put his body in front of blistering shots. "I know I'm going to have bruises throughout my body,'' Rocha said. "But if I don't block it, it might go in. I would feel worse if I turn and it goes by.''
Kind of like life, Cheyne Rocha's life.