Questions keep coming while Roloson keeps winning

Updated: May 28, 2006, 10:35 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

EDMONTON, Alberta -- It has become a ritual of sorts during these Western Conference finals.

Every day, reporters file into the Edmonton Oilers' dressing room, surround netminder Dwayne Roloson and poke and prod him as though they were scientists working on a difficult experiment.

Instead of stethoscopes and scientific machinery, these reporters' invasive instruments are their questions, and at the heart of their inquiry, the pressing question of just how Roloson got so good.

Dwayne Roloson
Harry How/Getty ImagesGoalie Dwayne Roloson has helped the Oilers win seven straight games heading into Game 4 of the West finals.

The implication, of course, is that Roloson couldn't possibly have been this good, could he? Surely, he was different than the guy who is now dragging the Edmonton Oilers on a magical ride that seems destined to end in the Stanley Cup finals. Well, wasn't he?

Now, if Roloson was a sensitive guy, maybe in the form of a Tom Barrasso or Ed Belfour, it's unlikely this line of questioning, as personal and repetitive as it's been, would have been taken so agreeably. But he is not Barrasso or Belfour and, hence, he has put up with it.

No, it doesn't really bug him, Roloson told ESPN.com this week.

"Not really. With the lockout, everybody forgets a lot of things. A couple of years ago, I was playing in an All-Star Game and won the Roger Crozier Award [best save percentage]," Roloson said. "Those things you forget about, too, as an athlete, because the personal accolades aren't really personal accolades, it really takes a team effort."

Now, as much as the pride of Simcoe, Ontario, is patient, he is steadfast in his refusal to buy into the Roy Hobbs story line that tinges much of what has been said of Roloson.

In part, it's easy to see why.

Roloson has played 250 regular-season games and holds a very respectable 2.13 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in the playoffs. He's seen as a technically sound netminder who moves side to side with ease and has great anticipation.

And he has had playoff experience, helping the Minnesota Wild to a surprise berth in the 2003 Western Conference finals, going 5-6 while splitting duties with Manny Fernandez. Before that, Roloson was understudy to Dominik Hasek in Buffalo when the Sabres went to the Stanley Cup finals in 1999. He went 1-1 when Hasek was injured in the Eastern Conference finals against the Maple Leafs.

"Well, I've been here," Roloson said. "Those experiences obviously help out a lot."

But let's be perfectly frank here.

Whatever Roloson's experiences, they pale in comparison to the rainbow he is on now. The past is child's play compared to what he has accomplished to date and what he is on the verge of accomplishing.

Roloson is 11-4 in these playoffs and is riding a seven-game winning streak. In 13 of 15 games, he has allowed three goals or less. In one of the other two contests, Game 3 on Tuesday, Roloson was magnificent as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks peppered him with 14 first-period shots in what was a must-win situation for them. Roloson did not yield a goal until the third period, and the Oilers went on to take a stranglehold 3-0 series lead with a 5-4 victory.

And while he strongly refutes such characterizations, his teammates and coach Craig MacTavish say, quite simply, Roloson is carrying them on his back.

"Our goaltending is well-documented, [and] has been exceptional," MacTavish said Wednesday as the Oilers took a day off heading into Thursday's Game 4. "So it's been a very easy job for the coaching staff with this type of goaltending. You know, the danger is that you rely on it so much, that eventually bad things can and do often happen. And we've got to play a better game in front of Rolie [Thursday] and play a game in which he doesn't have to be the first star of the game for us to win."

When GM Kevin Lowe set out to find a goalie at the trade deadline to shore up what had been a glaring weakness, there was plenty of speculation he might try to bring back Curtis Joseph or pry Martin Biron out of Buffalo. And while it was obvious the Wild were going to try to move Roloson, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent and had been shunted to a backup role by coach Jacques Lemaire, there was nonetheless surprise that Lowe would give up a first-round pick for the 36-year-old.

Lowe said Tuesday there weren't as many irons in the fire as many people believed in terms of finding a goalie, and the team did its due diligence before acquiring Roloson.

"Some of it was his personality," Lowe said. "A lot of people said a lot of good things about him, about how competitive he was and a good team guy. So you factor in all those variables, his style of play.

"You know, we really felt that over the course of the season -- and I think if I'm not mistaken, we gave up the fewest shots in the league on a per-game average -- that on some nights, we just needed one more save, and Rolie's, you know, had the average and had the save percentage over the last number of years and had a little bit of experience. So we were just looking for an improvement."

It's safe to say Roloson has far exceeded expectations. But that's where it gets a bit tricky. It's easy for the media scientists in their white coats to express surprise, even dismay, over Roloson's play. But what does it say of Roloson if he admits, "Holy cow, I never knew I could be this good." Doesn't it suggest it could all come crashing down at a moment's notice?

Likewise, if Lowe admits he had no idea Roloson could do what he's done, doesn't he buy into the notion that this is a midgrade netminder playing over his head? And no one connected to the Oilers wants to fool with their mojo when things are going so well and the big prize is now sitting just five wins away.

"We weren't looking for necessarily the guy we have right now, as you say, certainly a Conn Smythe candidate," Lowe acknowledged Wednesday. "And I say that in all due respect, because, as I mentioned, we still have a long way to go. But we just saw him as a guy that could step in and maybe improve the goaltending that we had to that point in the season."

If the question of the day is, "How did Roloson get so good?" the follow-up question is, "What happens after this?"

"Is he Kurt Warner?" one top NHL scout asked rhetorically. "Thirty-seven-year-old goaltenders, 37-year-old hockey players … it's not like they have a lot of untapped potential there."

On the other hand, Belfour won a Cup in his mid-30s and went on to be nominated for a Vezina Trophy after that. Dominik Hasek won a Cup at 37.

So, what of Roloson? What is his value after this spring? What's his future look like? "I don't think that question can be answered until we see what happens in the next year or two," the scout said.

In the meantime, he said, "It's a great story and for somebody that's a really, really good guy."

As for Roloson, he continues to greet the media experiments with aplomb and unusual good grace.

"I think every experience is a learning experience. Fortunately enough, I've been there to see what Dom went through. Those are experiences that you never forget. You try and learn from pros and cons of everything," he said. "You try and learn how to deal with all this stuff. Realistically, the best thing, I've found for me personally, is to avoid it. Outside the rink, I don't watch anything, I don't read anything, unless, if the hockey game's on, I'll watch the hockey game. I don't really pay attention to much else."

Probably a wise move.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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