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Wild's Rolston healthy again and playing at his peak

  • Article by: Kent Youngblood
  • Star Tribune
  • March 19, 2007 - 12:07 AM

Todd White has been Brian Rolston's teammate for two seasons. Much of that time they have been linemates as well. So, White knows when Rolston is at the top of his game.

And he's seeing it now.

He sees Rolston flying down the wing, launching his vaunted slapshot. Rolston, digging in the corners, forcing turnovers. More than anything, he sees Rolston getting one scoring opportunity after another.

"He is definitely jumping now," White said after Wild practice Sunday afternoon. "But then, it takes a while to get the legs back."

Rolston has been one of the team's most consistent players since putting on a Wild uniform before the 2005-06 season. Last season he played in all 82 games for the third time in four NHL seasons, setting career highs in goals (34), points (79) and plus-minus (plus-14).

He was on pace to duplicate those numbers when, in early February, Rolston got a case of the flu that hit him harder than any 6-4, 250-pound defenseman could.

He could barely walk, much less skate. For nearly a week he was essentially bed-ridden while he recovered. He missed only three games -- the first game he's missed with the Wild -- returning on Feb. 14.

But, in retrospect, it took a little longer than that to get well. For days and games following his return, his legs weren't quite right, his energy level not quite high enough. It's normal for a player to go through ups and downs during a season. (Well, actually, it's normal for most players not named Rolston; after all, he did pick up points in 53 games last season.)

But this time it was more than a mini-slump.

"I think my energy got a little low," Rolston said. "I think it took a little bit to get back after I came back, to get to where I needed to be. As far as everything -- energy level, legs, timing."

The good news is that the Wild, with Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik heating up and others playing well, was able to stay on track.

The better news is that Rolston is back in top form.

But it was a process. He scored only one goal in the first 10 games after his return. Even more uncharacteristic was that he was a minus-4 in those games.

In his past six games, however, Rolston has scored three goals and is a plus-four.

Points aren't the only indicator, of course. But opportunities are. And during the Wild's three-game road swing he had a number of them. In the team's breakthrough victory in Calgary on Saturday night Rolston had three in the first period alone.

"You see chances, opportunities to score," Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Plus, he's solid in the defensive zone, killing penalties. Getting shots on net, controlling the power play."

Said White: "It's hard when you miss time. More than the time it's the time away from skating. I found that out with my leg injury. When you can't do anything -- when you have the flu or an injury where you can't skate -- it takes a while."

But Rolston is jumping now, getting chances. As a result the Wild has a better chance of doing something special down the home stretch of the season.

"I feel like I'm playing hard now," Rolston said. "When I'm getting opportunities, I know I'm on top of my game. And I know when I'm pushing myself things happen for me."


• Wild goalie Manny Fernandez had treatment on his sore left knee Sunday and is scheduled to see a doctor today.

Kent Youngblood •

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