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Old-school Roloson has been a class act

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / May 19, 2011

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TAMPA — Goaltending coach Mike Geragosian received a phone call just before New Year’s Day. On the phone was Lightning scout Steve Baker. Baker wanted to know what Geragosian thought of Tampa Bay trading for 41-year-old goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who was toiling for the struggling Islanders.

Geragosian, who recruited Roloson to UMass-Lowell in 1990, didn’t hesitate in rendering an opinion.

“I know he’s a lot better than what you’ve got,’’ he told Baker.

When the deal went through, he contacted Roloson.

“I texted him,’’ said Geragosian. “I said, ‘You’re going to like Florida, particularly at your age.’ ’’

Roloson heads into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Bruins tonight with a 9-4 postseason record, a .931 save percentage, and a 2.37 goals-against average. Though he was pulled after two periods in Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to the Bruins in Game 2, he is a substantial reason why the Lightning overcame the Penguins in seven games and swept the Capitals.

“I kind of felt bad for him,’’ said Geragosian, who is now the BU goalie coach. “They really left him out to dry. But [the Bruins] left Timmy [Thomas] out to dry in the first game.’’

Roloson isn’t one to dwell on the negative. He has had one of the more resilient careers in the NHL, a run that has taken him to seven organizations and encompassed 566 regular-season games and 46 in the playoffs. This postseason is Roloson’s first since 2006 when he carried the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup finals, only to be knocked out by a knee injury in the first game against the Peter Laviolette-led Carolina Hurricanes.

“It was out of my control, it still is out of my control, how it happened and what happened,’’ said Roloson. “For me, to dwell on it and focus on it is just wasting my energy. For me, our team didn’t win and it’s unfortunate, but at the same time you’ve got to forget about it and move on.’’

The Lightning’s first-year general manager, Steve Yzerman, saw something in Roloson that made him think he was one of the missing pieces for a team that lacked consistency in net.

“Our team had played pretty well, and we were in a pretty good spot in the standings, but Dwayne became available,’’ said Yzerman. “An experienced guy, a playoff-proven guy, and we saw it as an opportunity to improve our team.

“Our thought at the time was, ‘We want to do everything we can to make the playoffs.’ We weren’t necessarily thinking about where we were going to go once we got there.

“In watching him play, I don’t think he’s done anything that Dwayne Roloson isn’t accustomed to doing. I played against him when he took that Edmonton team to the finals.

“I’ve watched him a lot. I’ve seen him at the World Championships. And when we played against the Islanders, he was exceptional for them this year in the two games we played against him. I think he’s doing what Dwayne Roloson can do.’’

An educated decision One decision that had a significant impact on Roloson’s career was returning to college for his senior season rather than signing with the Maple Leafs, who were pursuing him.

Bruce Crowder, who was the UMass-Lowell coach at the time, sat Roloson down for a chat to discuss his future.

“It was pretty similar to what I talked about with a lot of kids,’’ said Crowder. “I just felt that the more information I could give him — and he could walk away making an educated decision — the better off he was going to feel about it and the better off I would feel about it as a coach.

“He came off a real good year as a junior and followed it up with a tremendous year as a senior. I thought if he left as a junior, it could’ve been a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing.

“I had a kid at Northeastern [Marc Robitaille] who was an All-American his sophomore year and he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs at good money. You can’t blame him or anything, but he was out of hockey in a year and a half.’’

Roloson said the experience at Lowell meant a great deal to him.

“I was 20 years old and had nowhere to go, really,’’ he said. “I had a couple of offers to play college hockey. Getting an opportunity to play at Lowell was huge for me. It allowed me to develop as a person, as a goalie, and as a student.

“I look back at the memories I have of the university and still, to this day, my friends at university are still my close, personal friends. You grow up together, you learn a lot together, and we had a lot of fun together. We were well-coached with Bill Riley and Bruce Crowder at the time

“When Bruce came in, there were a lot of changes, but at the same time, we learned a lot about pro hockey. He was preparing each and every individual how to play pro hockey if they had an opportunity.

“I remember looking back after my junior year and sitting in the coach’s office with Coach Crowder and discussing my future and trying to decide whether to leave or come back.

“He said, ‘You know what? For me, I don’t want you to leave, but for you, you probably want to leave and I’m going to give you the resources to make that decision.’

“He helped me make the decision to come back, and to this day, when I look back, it’s the best decision I ever made.’’

Leadership qualities Roloson’s reputation off the ice is universally stellar. Geragosian said he hasn’t changed much as a person.

“He’s a super person, not full of himself, he’s humble,’’ he said. “I remember watching him play for Thorold [Ontario, in juniors].’’

Before one of those junior games, Geragosian handed then-Lowell assistant coach Blaise MacDonald a note and told him not to read it until after the game.

Roloson made 52 saves and lost in overtime, at which point he smashed his stick over the crossbar. Geragosian told MacDonald to go ahead and read the note. It said, “If he snaps his stick over the crossbar in overtime, we’ll commit to this kid tonight.’’

Gerogosian can’t explain where that premonition came from.

“It was a crazy instinct that I had,’’ he said. “He had size and quickness and he was competitive. He wasn’t playing on a strong team and he was carrying the team, making save after save after save. Then I remember he showed up on campus with a pickup truck and a dog.’’

Asked if he was surprised to see Roloson still playing past 40, Geragosian laughed.

“I think I’m surprised to see any goalie still playing at 41 to the level he’s playing at,’’ he said. “I know he’s had a lot of half-seasons in his career. He hasn’t played 90 percent of the games, and I think that helps on the wear and tear. He’s developed over the years into a fabulous goaltender.’’

And he’s someone his teammates appreciate as much for his personality as his netminding skills.

“I think the guys who played against him maybe didn’t realize how good he is until he got here and he stole some hockey games for us,’’ said Lightning forward Steven Stamkos. “But the thing that separates him is just his leadership abilities.

“[The media] doesn’t see that but we see that in the room every day before games, practice, and at team meetings. He’s always stepping up, he’s always talking.

“He’s obviously a veteran guy in this league who has been to the finals before. So he knows how to react in every single situation. We know how good he is on the ice, but it’s his leadership abilities that have really helped us to get here.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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