Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rolie the Goalie
Roloson, at 36, finally getting his due

Oilers 2, Sharks 0
Edmonton wins series 4-2

Rather than give a detailed runthrough of what happened in last night's game, I'm just going to pick a player from the winning team and go from there.

CBC reporter Scott Oake, following last night's game: "Are you playing the best hockey of your life, Dwayne?"

Dwayne Roloson: "
No, this is how I play. This is how I played in Minnesota."

You could almost sense that Roloson was suppressing the strongest eyeroll urge of his life at that moment.

But some of us remember. It was, after all, only three years ago.

That year, the Simcoe, Ontario, native posted the third-best goals-against average (2.00) and second-best save percentage (.927) in the NHL. The Minnesota Wild finished that season with 42 wins and 95 points, good for sixth in the Western Conference and the franchise's first (and only) playoff berth.

After his counterpart Manny Fernandez led the team through a first-round upset over the Colorado Avalanche, Roloson stepped into the Wild goal in Round 2 with his team trailing the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 in the series.

Despite the fact his team was heavily outshot the next three games, Roloson allowed just five goals in Games 5, 6 and 7.

And it was onto Round 3.

So let's not pretend like he hasn't been there before. Roloson's certainly not.

Maybe that's because he remembers how things went for the underdog Wild in Round 3 against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. (They were swept, scoring just two goals in the four-game series.)

As one can imagine, there's likely just a little apprehension for Roloson. The journey's far from over, and all that jazz, and if the team in front of him can't score against a Ducks team that — despite all its roster changes — plays awfully similar to that one in 2003, then Roloson can't really win this thing on himself.

And next year, it'll be back to stupid question time following Round 2.

But being under-appreciated is nothing new for Roloson. He's under-sized — 6 foot 1, 175 pounds — and was never drafted. He also never played Canadian major junior hockey, instead plowing his way through lower Ontario junior leagues with a handful of teams: the Simcoe Penguins, Simcoe Rams and Norwich Merchants (all Jr. C); the Belleville Bobcats and Thorold Black Hawks (both Jr. B).

Even then, at age 20, he was getting old for lower-level junior hockey. But his tenure paid off when this kid from small-town Ontario signed on with UMass-Lowell of the NCAA, a school that doesn't have a tradition of graduating players to the NHL. Even getting to the school was a longshot:
UMass-Lowell assistant coach Blaise MacDonald scouted Roloson when Thorold played at Wellington in a junior game back in 1990.

MacDonald brought his goalie coach along. Thorold was badly outplayed, but Roloson kept them in it, pushing the game to overtime.

"At that point my goalie coach jotted down a note, but wouldn't show it to me," MacDonald said. "Thorold loses, and Roli shatters his stick over the top of the crossbar. My coach shows me the note. It says, 'If he loses and breaks his stick, we'll take him.' He wanted to see the competitiveness."
Roloson would go on to have unprecedented success under UMass-Lowell head coach Bruce Crowder, who said the goaltender possessed "more mental toughness than I've ever seen."

In his final NCAA season, Roloson put on a goaltending clinic, playing every single game, and leading "a ragtag bunch of guys" to within one game of the 1994 Frozen Four. Roloson was named an all-American and a finalist for the prestigious Hobey Baker award.

Then nearly 25 years old, Roloson finally had the NHL calling, and it was — appropriately enough given his current tenure with the Oilers — the Calgary Flames who signed him to the team's minor-league affiliate. There, his reputation of having an unparrallel work ethic continued to grow.

Goaltending is a fickle business, however, with only 30 or so men in the world getting a chance to be a starting netminder in the NHL. Roloson eventually found himself bouncing around before having one, do-or-die season in 2000-01 with the AHL's Worcester Ice Cats. He and his wife, Melissa, even had to move in with her parents.

Then 31, Roloson went on to win the Baz Bastien Memorial Trophy as the AHL's goaltender of the year.

His timing couldn't have been better, as commissioner Gary Bettman's expansion plans were in full swing. The Minnesota Wild entered the NHL in the fall of 2001, and Roloson finally had his shot at being a No. 1 netminder.

There's a reason there are so many Google matches for 'Dwayne Roloson' and 'perseverance' because he's one NHL player who epitomizes the word.

Now he has a chance to persevere here, against the Ducks (again), three years later.

I wouldn't bet against him.

UPDATE I'm not sure what the chances of myself and Cosh both writing an ode to Roloson at the same time are, but it happened. Meh.

UPDATE2 I changed the Roloson quote to what The Battle of Alberta had as I really didn't get a good listen of the postgame activities from the news desk.


At 8:15 a.m., May 18, 2006, Blogger Earl Sleek said...

(They [Roloson's Wild] were swept, scoring just two goals in the four-game series.)

Um, I hate to be a historical tightwad, but the Wild scored exactly one goal in that WC Finals in 2003.

Yup, that's a record that will pretty much stand forever.

At 11:02 a.m., May 18, 2006, Blogger Nick said...

Good writeup, James. I balked at that "Are you playing the best hockey of your life?" too. What kind of a stupid question to ask. Predictions for the finals? I think both games could go either way.

At 5:57 p.m., May 18, 2006, Blogger Joe Pelletier said...

Even more revolting was Oake's question (and I forget who it was directed to) regarding the upcoming Anaheim series.

Here the player is sweating and physically drained from the SJ game and series, and Oake asks "What are you doing to prepare for Anaheim?"

Oake is usually much better than that.

Joe Pelletier

At 6:15 p.m., May 18, 2006, Blogger sacamano said...

Oake is usually much better than that.

No he isn't.

At 9:40 p.m., May 18, 2006, Anonymous Don said...

It should also be noted that Roloson contributed to the Sabres 1999 run to the Cup Finals. He won Buffalo a game in the Conf. Finals against Toronto. I'm pretty sure he picked up the drop-slap from Hasek. Dom would bat the puck out of the zone every so often.


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