‘It starts with Roman’: Marlborough goaltender leads Panther hockey team

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‘It starts with Roman’: Marlborough goaltender leads Panther hockey team
Roman Belli stands on the ice at Navin Arena. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

MARLBOROUGH – Roman Belli is habitually the last to leave the Navin Arena ice.

As his exhausted teammates trudge off the ice after another two-hour-long Tuesday practice, Belli lingers. He retrieves lost pucks, takes the nets off the ice, and finally – minutes later – joins the rest of the Marlborough team.

“He’s got a superstition,” Head Coach Mike O’Brien said.

Although Belli’s “last-off-the-ice” mantra may be the product of superstition, his work ethic is very real. After working hard for years and improving his craft, Belli waited his turn to start on the Marlborough High School hockey team, making the most of his opportunities, proving himself and becoming the leader of one of Central Massachusetts’s most successful hockey teams in 2024.

Inspired by his father, Belli started playing hockey in fifth grade, significantly later than some of his peers.

“And I was always a goaltender. I always wanted to be,” Belli told the Community Advocate. “I think it’s unusual. I’ve never seen people [go straight to goaltending]. Most people are regular skaters and switch into it… I love it because you’re just always on the ice. You’re involved in every play. Every game if you’re lucky.”

But Belli was not so lucky — at least to start. When Belli joined the Marlborough team, the Panthers had an influx of excellent goaltenders. As Belli waited for his chance, the goaltender surplus thwarted any chance he had at varsity action.

“It sucked. I’m super competitive, and I just wanted to be out there the whole time. It sucked to just have to sit there and watch,” he said.

Belli waited until midway through his junior year, until, on Feb. 1, 2023, he finally skated onto Navin Arena as the team’s varsity starting goaltender. Belli gave up an early goal to Westborough, which had won six straight games prior to the matchup, but he was solid from there; Marlborough won 4-1.

“I just wanted to show what I was made of… I knew that was my chance to show who I am as a player, and I just wanted to take advantage of it,” Belli said.

Belli also offered words of encouragement to other athletes waiting their turn to start, saying, “Just be patient. Keep working hard – don’t just give up when it gets harder. Keep going.”

When Marlborough faced Westborough this season, Belli was no longer the newcomer. As the senior goaltender, Belli has become integral to the team’s success.

O’Brien didn’t hesitate when explaining Belli’s impact: “It starts with Roman,” he said.

“Roman, this year, he’s been one of our most consistent players. He’s given us a chance in every game, and that’s what you want from a goalie. He makes all the saves that he should, then he makes a couple outstanding ones that really help us and give us an opportunity…Roman gives those guys a lot of confidence out there that if they do make a mistake, Roman is there to help them out,” he added.

Belli devotes much of his time to hockey, spending hours practicing on the ice and working in the gym. In the offseason, he’s attending goaltending camps and clinics. With plans to play collegiate hockey, Belli strives to be the best version of himself – and he’s ready to put in the work to achieve his dreams.

And he’s also worked on the mental aspect of the game.

“I think [goaltending] requires a lot of technique, skill, and practice, but a lot of it is mental out there. If you get scored on – big goal – you can’t let that bother you. You need to get it past you and keep playing,” he said.

The Belli era of Marlborough hockey started slowly. After defeating Westborough to start the season, the Panthers fell to 1-3. Since that point, however, the team has caught fire, winning four-straight contests to improve to 6-3-1.

“I think we’re capable of a lot. We just had a bad start. We didn’t – I don’t know what it was, we just weren’t clicking as a team. After that first win, we all clicked. There’s a lot of new faces, a lot of underclassmen, so we all clicked and really came together,” Belli said.

With the team firing on all cylinders, the Panther goalkeeper played coy when asked about championship aspirations.

“I take it one game at a time. I’m just worried about the next game,” he said.

 

 

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