The misery behind him, the finishing touches on his career complete, Dwayne Roloson views his final days in Buffalo as a blessing. He was backing up Dominik Hasek during the 1999-00 season. No shame there. But how useless was he when the Sabres told him to not even bother strapping on his pads?
Roloson was backing up backup Martin Biron and reduced to borrowing somebody else's gear and playing forward in shinny games with the healthy scratches just to stay in shape. He was 30 years old, married with his first child on the way. If he was so bad that his team didn't need him in practice, perhaps he was in the wrong line of work.
“My wife and I did talk about it,” Roloson said by telephone last Tuesday, a day before the Sabres fired Lindy Ruff. “You know, maybe it was time to hang 'em up.”
And maybe it wasn't.
Rather than take the Sabres' hint and join the real world, Roloson turned his career into a story about determination and perseverance. He created a happy ending. He played another 13 years and 504 NHL games and pocketed $23.7 million after he left Buffalo. He was selected for the NHL All-Star game and played in the Stanley Cup final.
“You have to go out and do your best every day and see what happens in the end, see where the cards fall,” Roloson said. “There's always going to be somebody, a critic that says, 'No, you can't do it.' You have to say, 'Yeah, I can' and battle through it.”
Yes, he can.
Yes, he did.
Roloson pulled himself together and spent a year with AHL Worcester, where he rebuilt his confidence and was the best goalie in the minors. He spent three-plus seasons in Minnesota, three-plus more years in Edmonton, two years with the Islanders and two more with Tampa Bay.
If you remember, Roloson carried the Oilers through the playoffs before suffering a knee injury in the finals against Carolina. It was the same year Buffalo lost to Carolina in the conference finals. He later played for Ruff in the World Championships, which the goaltender called “a great experience.”
He was still looking for work two weeks ago before taking a job as a goaltending consultant for Anaheim. The goal now, at age 43, is sharing all that he learned from his career and paying it forward. He conducted goaltending clinics for kids and always enjoyed the balance between the technical, mental and physical sides of the position.
Roloson harbors no ill feelings toward the Sabres, by the way, for mistreating him. He said they did him a favor. They forced him to find strength and competitiveness that he didn't know existed. He also became an example for young athletes, starting with his two sons, because he kept battling to the end.
Brett, 12, and Ross, 10, should know that their father had a thick spine and never stopped competing even when it looked like he should give up. Roloson came away a better goaltender and a stronger man who can retire in peace, knowing he maxed out his career. He's hoping his boys understand as much someday.
Any player would embrace 11 years in the NHL, a chance to play in the NHL All-Star Game in his home city and a crack at the Stanley Cup. Roloson was an all-star in 2004 and played in the Cup finals two years later on an Oilers team that included Michael Peca, another player who refused to surrender to Buffalo.
Roloson did all that and more after his 30th birthday, after two seasons with the Sabres. Obviously, the end wasn't the end. It was the beginning of a great career.
“There's no bitterness whatsoever,” Roloson said. “It's part of the business, and there's an ugly side to the game. General managers have to make decisions. Some are tough. Some are easy. I wouldn't wish that on anybody. It made me a better, stronger person at the end of the day. You can only thank them.”
Trotz now the iron man
In case you were wondering, Nashville coach Barry Trotz is now the longest-tenured bench boss in the NHL. He unpacked his bags when the league expanded in 1998-99, the year after Lindy Ruff arrived in Buffalo.
“It seems weird that I'm the guy that's the longest in the league,” Trotz said after Ruff was fired last week. “I guess I'm next.”
Trotz isn't going anywhere soon with the Preds off to an 8-5-5 start, fourth best in the West, going into Saturday night. Nashville has reached the playoffs seven times in eight years, including the past three seasons. The Sabres missed the playoffs three times in five years and had a miserable start this season under Ruff.
“I feel sad that a good man lost his job,” Trotz said. “He's not going to be out of a job long. He's a tremendous coach and a great communicator. I don't know any of the situation in Buffalo; probably expectations were extremely high the last couple years with new ownership. But he's a good hockey guy.”
RIT's Tanev blossoming
Chris Tanev has continued climbing the Canucks' depth chart and lately has found a home on their second defense pairing. It's a quick climb with one of the NHL's better teams less than three years after he left Rochester Institute of Technology.
Tanev has been compared favorably to former Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen, who was known for his intelligence and dependability. Veteran Kevin Bieksa drew a comparison to forward Alex Burrows, who made the jump from the East Coast Hockey League and became an effective NHL player.
“He's a smart player,” said Bieksa. “I see a lot of similarities to Alex Burrows. When he came up, people were saying the same things about him. He wasn't a good enough skater. He didn't have a good enough shot. But he just thinks the game so well. He's really high percentage – and really poised.”
It's good for the Canucks, who now have more overall depth along the blue line while waiting for newcomer Jason Garrison to get adjusted to his surroundings. Garrison and veteran Keith Ballard, who made up their third pairing, make $8.8 million combined.
Sens plugging away
Paul MacLean will be an easy choice for Coach of the Year if the Senators can somehow make the playoffs after losing top forwards Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson and No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson.
Rather than made excuses, MacLean has his players believing they can win without their star players. The Senators took a three-game winning streak into the weekend and were tied with division rivals Boston, and Toronto for second in the division.
“We just plug along,” captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “We have guys coming up and playing hard for us. That's exactly what we need in this situation. We're giving ourselves a chance to win games. It's fun to be part of this group right now.”
Jonathan Huberdeau is the best thing to hit South Florida since the bikini.
The 19-year-old rookie leads the Panthers with eight goals and 13 points in his 16 games this season. He had two goals and two assists in a 5-2 win over the Flyers last week. He started his career with a goal and two assists in the season opener.
Huberdeau had one of the prettiest goals you'll find when he faked Ilya Brzygalov into the second week of March on a penalty shot. His 13 points trailed former Canisius College star Cory Conacher, now with the Lightning, by two points through 16 games.
“You are playing against guys you watched on TV and never thought you would share the ice with,”' Huberdeau said. “I'm just starting and it's great to be in the NHL. But I want to keep it going. I think things are going well. But I have to remember this is my job. And I love my job. I can't believe I'm doing this for a living.”
DiPietro deal backfires
During the 2006-07 season, I spoke with Rick DiPietro outside the Islanders' dressing room in Nassau Coliseum after he signed a 15-year contract worth $67.5 million. I wasn't sure if the former Boston University star and former No. 1 pick overall made the best deal or the worst.
DiPietro was guaranteed to make $4.5 million through the 2020-21 season but, when he reached the agreement, some wondered if he was throwing money away. The top goaltenders, and he appeared to be on his way to becoming one, were making $8 million. It was viewed as a risk for him and owner Charles Wang.
“It was impossible to turn it down, which was why I didn't turn it down,” he said at the time. “I don't like talking about it. It's done and over with. The short answer is you have to look at the whole deal. The Islanders made a commitment to me, and I appreciated that. We came to the conclusion it was good for both sides.”
The Islanders gambled and lost. DiPietro is getting his money, but he also lost. He cleared waivers and is in the AHL after giving up 12 goals on 83 shots. He suffered an injury during the skills competition at the 2008 NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta, played the next day and was never the same. Since, he has played only 50 games.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle after James van Riemsdyk skated a full circle around the Buffalo defense, reminding longtime fans of Frank Mahovlich: “He came around and back out and I was going to say, 'It's the Big M'. He probably didn't know who the Big M was, so that was a little inside joke on our bench.”
Around the boards
• Patrick Kane has continued his terrific start, and already there are whispers he'll be a candidate for most valuable player. Kane had nine goals and 22 points in 16 games while leading the Blackhawks to a 14-0-3 start. In a short season, he's on pace for 66 points. It would match his total in 82 games last year.
• Ron Rolston might not be the only coach in the family. Brian Rolston hasn't officially retired but, at age 40, appeared headed in that direction. “I played for Jacques Lemaire for nine years,” Brian Rolston said. “I think I have my PhD in how to play defensively.” Maybe he should forget coaching and sign with Buffalo.
• Apparently, the death of the Kings was a bit presumptuous. The Stanley Cup champs, after a terrible start, won four of five games going into the weekend and were climbing up the Western Conference standings. Los Angeles remains a dangerous team that can beat anyone, especially when Jonathan Quick is right.