Ex-UML Great Roloson Working with River Hawk Goaltenders
By Chaz Scoggins
LOWELL -- Some 20 years ago, when future NHL All-Star goalie Dwayne Roloson and future UMass Lowell head coach Norm Bazin were college roommates and best friends, they sometimes talked wistfully about what it would be like to coach together someday.
Someday is today, although their current partnership will last only as long as the NHL lockout does.
Roloson, now 43 and the oldest player in the NHL, is presently between teams but hopes to resume his career when and if the league and the union settle their differences. In the meantime, the unscheduled time off has allowed him to fly from his Minnesota home once a month for a week and help out his alma mater's hockey team as a volunteer coach.
"It's something Norm and I had talked about for a long, long time. We talked about coaching a team together someday," said Roloson, reflecting back to his years playing with Bazin on the River Hawks from 1990-94 and leading the team to the NCAA Tournament as seniors.
"Whether it was juniors, high school, college, or a minor team, we wanted to do it. Spend time together, have fun together, get our families together. With (the NHL) up in the air right now, I told Norm things were going to get ugly. So I said I was willing to help out anyway I can, just let me know."
The next thing Roloson knew, he was in Lowell and on the ice with the River Hawks. Cam Ellsworth is the goalie coach, so rather than step on his bootlaces, Roloson has imparted other nuggets of knowledge from playing 15 years in the NHL to the UML players, nearly all of whom hope to play pro hockey after college.
"For the most part right now I'm trying to get the guys to understand what it takes to take the next step," he explained. "Some guys will be leaving after this year, but a lot of them are still freshmen and sophomores and have a few more years here.
"I've told them about dedication, how hard they'll have to work on and off the ice to make themselves pro players, and also about how important it is to balance their schoolwork and their hockey.
"You never know how long you're going to play," Roloson continued. "That's one of the reasons I wanted to go to school, because in four years you'll have a degree and no one in the world can take that away. It's something I still have in my back pocket."
"It's very good for our guys to see someone who's not only been able to play at the next level, but who's been able to graduate from here and is an alum," Bazin said in an earlier interview. "So many young men are in a rush nowadays to move out the door. They think if they don't grab their pro opportunity now, it may be lost.
"I think it didn't hurt his career; it helped it. He was able to mature and take that extra time."
Roloson nearly left UML after his junior year when he received a $250,000 offer from an NHL team.
Bruce Crowder, then UML's coach and a former NHL player himself who had graduated from the University of New Hampshire, advised him that if he stayed another winter, he'd double his money.
He did. With Bazin netting 20 goals and Roloson posting a 23-10-7 record, 2.76 GA average, .905 save percentage, and earning Hockey East Player of the Year honors, they led the River Hawks to the brink of the NCAA's Frozen Four. The Calgary Flames gave Roloson a $600,000 contract after the season.
He's earned millions since. In 2006, he was a late-season acquisition by the Edmonton Oilers, who were trying to squeeze into the playoffs. The Oilers squeaked in, and Roloson and another Lowell alumnus, coach Craig MacTavish, led them to the Stanley Cup finals.
Roloson suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game against the Carolina Hurricanes, however. The Oilers were ahead at the time but were beaten in overtime, and the Oilers lost the series in seven games.
"They're always in the back of your mind, the what-ifs," Roloson said. "But I'm a guy who's always worried about the things you can control and not the things you can't.
"It was frustrating, but it was something I couldn't control. We took them to seven and, unfortunately, came out on the short end of the stick.
"But MacTavish was awesome," Roloson added. "I knew him a little from playing against him. But to sit down and talk about his time and my time in Lowell and swap Coach (Bill) Riley stories was fun."
Two years ago, a 41-year-old Roloson backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins. Roloson and Tim Thomas dueled through seven thrilling games before the Bruins prevailed and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Thomas had planned to attend UMass Lowell but opted for the University of Vermont simply because Roloson was the incumbent.
"I heard about that," Roloson said. "For me, I was happy he didn't come, and I'm sure he's happy he went to Vermont. Going to Lowell gave me a chance to extend my career and take the next step."
Right now, however, Roloson's NHL career is in limbo along with every other player in the league.
"It is hard to accept," he admitted, knowing he doesn't have many years left as a goalie, if any at all. "But being through this one other time and also in '94 when I was just coming out of college, it's all about understanding what the players have done for us in the past, paving the way for the guys coming down the pipeline in the future. It's about allowing them to have what we had."
And if his playing career is over, well, perhaps it will lead someday to fully consummating the dream he and Bazin shared as roommates and teammates two decades ago.
"It's something we've now been able to do a little bit, but not as much as we would like," Roloson said. "It's taken something like (the lockout) to have that opportunity to do it now.
"But it has been great."
A dream come true.