Roli the (really old) Goalie making most of second chance

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 1, 2011 - 11:42 PM

At 41, former Wild netminder Dwayne Roloson keeps his body -- and his eyes -- sharp for the playoff-bound Lightning.

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Acquired from the Islanders on Jan. 1, Dwayne Roloson has a 16-11-4 record and 2.58 goals-against average for Tampa Bay.

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Dwayne Roloson chuckled at the question: "How the heck are you still kicking?"

Seriously though. In 2006, after three years of splitting the net in Minnesota, Roloson became Manny Fernandez's backup. He was 36, struggling in his spot starts, and doubters wondered if the Wild goalie was over the hill.

Naturally, Roloson proved everybody wrong when he was traded to Edmonton and carried the Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Here we are five years later, and Roli the Goalie is not only still kicking, he has given the Tampa Bay Lightning such a stabilizing presence in goal at the ripe age of 41, folks there are talking Stanley Cup for the first time since the team won it all in 2004.

"Age is just a number," Roloson said before making 36 saves Thursday night against Pittsburgh to help the Lightning clinch a playoff spot. "Physically and mentally, I feel better than I did 10 years ago. And as long as my body holds up, I want to keep playing."

Roloson, the NHL's second-oldest player behind the Boston Bruins' 42-year-old Mark Recchi, works tirelessly to stay in shape. The workout freak's regimen is infamous, lasting all summer with Huntington Beach-based fitness guru Scot Prohaska.

The two met 14 years ago through Roloson's former Buffalo and Calgary teammate James Patrick.

"We were doing stuff a dozen years ago that nobody ever thought of doing," Roloson said.

But Roloson, in Minnesota to see old friends and face the Wild on Saturday afternoon, has another trick: He exercises his eyes.

Years ago in Buffalo, he met Mark Gordon, a developmental optometrist who works with athletes.

"His philosophy is you train your eyes like you train your body," Roloson said. "His simile is when you drive eight, nine hours, you're physically tired. Why are you physically tired? You haven't done anything physically. But your eyes are working nonstop for those eight, nine hours, which tells your brain you're tired."

So Roloson trains his eyes so his body doesn't get fatigued. He does vision activities right up to the time he takes the ice some nights.

"We take a look at eye-hand coordination, reaction time, processing speeds, peripheral awareness," Gordon said. "Do we know where our teammates are? Do we know where the opponents are? Do we know where the puck is? Do we know how fast the puck is moving? Can we make sense of not only where the puck is at this moment but where it's going to be a half-second from now?"

Goalies will come to Gordon with specific complaints, such as "the puck looks too small" or "it's moving too fast" or "I'm losing it in traffic," and he will tailor specific activities to improve the problem areas.

Roloson does activities throughout the season to stretch his eye muscles. One activity is using a Brock string, which holds five beads stretched over 20 feet. Roloson will quickly focus from bead to bead, Gordon says.

"It's not only how quickly you get to each location, it's how efficiently," Gordon said. "Are your eyes lined up? Are they focused?"

This is how Roloson still is kicking. On Jan. 1, the Islanders traded him to the Lightning, a team bustling with superstars Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis and run by Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman.

Roloson is 16-11-4 with a 2.58 goals-against average since the trade. He has a new opportunity to make a difference in the playoffs. He hurt a knee in Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals and often wonders what might have been had he not been sidelined. The Oilers' Jussi Markkanen took the series to Game 7, but the Hurricanes won it all.

"Do I look at this as a second chance? Yeah. And who knows if I'll get a third chance," Roloson said. "So you want to take it now. There's no other day like the present to accomplish what you want. Our goal is to win the last game of the playoffs.

"This is a team with some incredible players. Who knows what the future will bring, but when you look at our chemistry and the caliber of players we have, we can do some great damage in the playoffs. Hopefully we'll be able to do it."

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