Saturday, March 21, 2009

Roloson leads the way for Oilers

While the spotlight has been shinning on Martin Brodeur the past few weeks as he moved past Patrick Roy's 551 career victories, another veteran goaltender has quietly been maneuvering his team into a playoff position while setting a record of his own. Thirty-nine year old Dwayne Roloson established a new Oilers franchise record for consecutive starts. Friday night's 5-4 shoot-out win in Chicago was Roloson's 27th consecutive start and he did not disappoint, making 39 saves and earning his 26th win of the season.

The previous record was twenty consecutive starts, shared by Oilers legends Grant Fuhr and Bill Ranford. This is familiar territory for Roloson as he fell one short of the record in 2005-06 after being acquired at the trade deadline from the Minnesota Wild. That same season, he brought the 8th place Oilers to the Stanley Cup finals before a sprained knee during game one in Carolina forced him out of the line-up. The injury to their number one goalie proved too difficult to overcome as future all-star Cam Ward and his Hurricanes won the Cup after a valiant effort by the Oilers pushed the series to seven games.

It has not been an easy road to the NHL for Roloson. He went undrafted and spent four years at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, becoming a NCAA all-star and Hobie Baker Award finalist before signing with the Calgary Flames as a free agent in 1994. He spent two seasons with the Saint John Flames in the AHL before joining Calgary for the 1996-97, 1997-98 seasons, playing in 70 games total. Then it was off to Buffalo where he was the back-up to Dominik Hasek for two seasons and did not see much ice time while there.

At the end of the 2000 season, Roloson finally experienced an NHL draft - he was selected by Columbus in the expansion draft. He instead chose to sign as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues but never suited up for them. He spent the season with their AHL affiliate, the Worcester Ice-Cats. While leading them to the AHL regular season title, he also won the Aldege Bastien Memorial Award as the league's outstanding goaltender. When he joined the Minnesota Wild as a free agent in 2001 his career took off and he began to establish himself as a legitimate NHL goaltender.

Sharing the Minnesota net with Manny Fernandez, Roloson played in 45, 50 and 48 games his first three seasons with the Wild, posting his best numbers in 2003-04 with a 1.88 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. During the 2005-06 campaign, the Oilers were shopping for a number one goaltender and the General Manager at the time, Kevin Lowe, saw his man in Roloson. On March 7th, 2006, Lowe acquired him from Minnesota in exchange for the Oilers first round draft pick and a conditional pick (which became a third round pick).

Reaction to the trade at the time was mixed. A March 9th, 2006 Edmonton Sun article by Terry Jones sums up the feelings of the Oilers faithful,

"All year Edmonton has waited for the Oilers GM to get a goalie. When he finally did, the day before the trade deadline, Oilers fans didn't know whether to cheer or boo."

With one trip to the Stanley Cup finals as an Oiler already, Edmonton fans are hoping Roloson's season continues into May and June. After 71 games, the Oilers are beginning to look like a playoff team as they solidify their hold on 7th place in the Western Conference. They have 79 points, two ahead of 8th place Nashville and four points ahead of the surging St. Louis Blues. The Ducks, Stars and Wild are next with 74 points each. The last eleven games of the season will be a challenge but Edmonton appears in control of their own destiny. They play in Minnesota on Sunday before returning home to host the Red Wings. To finish the season, they will play two games against the Ducks, one more against the Wild and one game against the Coyotes, Sharks, Canucks and Kings before wrapping up their 30th anniversary season with a "home and home" series against their Alberta rivals - the Calgary Flames.

The Conference standings can change in a hurry in today's NHL. Having a dependable goaltender in Dwayne Roloson, Oilers fans are hoping that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Have a great sports day everyone.

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