- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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On March 6, 2000, Bruins fans were devastated when future Hall of Famer Ray Bourque was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, along with Dave Andreychuk, in exchange for Rolston, Samuel Pahlsson, Martin Grenier and a 2000 first-round pick (which turned out to be Martin Samuelsson).
Bourque, then 38, was nearing the end of his career and wanted to win a Stanley Cup, and at the time, it was clear Boston was not the place for that to happen. So, No. 77 put on a different sweater for the first time in his career, and a season later he accomplished the ultimate goal, hoisting the Cup as a member of the Avalanche.
Meanwhile, Rolston was only 26. The former No. 11 overall draft pick by the New Jersey Devils in 1991 was already with his third NHL team.
Rolston blossomed in Boston. He spent parts of five seasons with the Bruins, but after the 2004-05 lockout, he signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Wild. After three seasons in Minnesota, he re-signed as a free agent with the Devils and he stayed there for three seasons before he was traded to the New York Islanders last summer.
He appeared to be miserable in New York and was being underutilized by the Islanders. Rolston struggled and he was finally traded back to Boston on Feb. 27.
Rolston feels reborn in Boston, and that's evident with his production and leadership both on and off the ice.
"It's been great," Rolston said. "This team has been very welcoming, as far as the players. I've been other places where I've been traded to and that's not really the case, and that's what makes this team pretty special."
There are some of the same faces around these parts from when Rolston was here last -- mainly training staff personnel. The only player remaining from the 2003-04 team is Patrice Bergeron, who was an 18-year-old rookie that season.
Ownership is the same, but the club's management, coaching staff and philosophy have changed. The team is also the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"It's a completely different organization," Rolston said. "There's a different expectations of players and how we play on a nightly basis. It's great. It's a great thing and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Rolston has always been a slick, point-producing forward with great skating skills and a big shot. He just turned 39 and he's now the seasoned veteran on the team.
"From looking at him getting in better shape he seems like all the sudden there's a little bit more life to him as well," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "He's excited and it doesn't matter how old you are, whether you're a rookie or a veteran, when you get excited about playing, good things happen. I think right now he's enjoying being here. I think he's enjoying his teammates."
Rolston has three goals and nine assists for 12 points in his past seven games with the Bruins.
"I've just been given a great opportunity, the coaches have shown a lot of confidence in me in certain situations that gives me confidence as a player. ... I've produced over my career and you know whatever happened in Long Island happened in Long Island and it's past that now."
Rolston is not doing all the work himself.
His linemates Chris Kelly and Benoit Pouliot have made solid contributions, too, and the trio has quickly formed into a cohesive unit, helping the Bruins become a much more confident team as they prepare for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"It's been great," Rolston said of his line. "We just have good chemistry together. We don't do anything extraordinary out there, we're just working hard and playing off each other. Good things are happening and obviously those guys are very talented players. Sometimes you just click with certain players."
It's clear the line is having fun as well as success on the ice together.
"[Rolston] has got a lot of things going his way. Like I said, he's given us at least what we've wanted, if not more than what we wanted, when we acquired him," Julien said.
A major reason the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 was with the help of future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi. He was 42 when he retired, a leader on and off the ice. He served as the voice of the locker room for both the players and the coaching staff. With Rex gone, that type of veteran presence was missing and Rolston has restored it.
"When you can add someone like him, I think we're extremely lucky," said Kelly. "Not only does he bring that leadership quality, he's a good character person. Obviously, the way he's been playing has been great. He shows up every game to play and does a lot of the little things that may go unnoticed. It's definitely great to see him get recognized with some offensive outbursts right now."
The change of scenery made a big difference for Rolston, too.
"Oh, yeah," Kelly said. "I was in the same situation last year, coming here and you're on a new team with new guys and new people to impress. It's an easy locker room to come into and it's a good locker room to come into because it's very team-oriented."
It has been a smooth transition for Rolston.
"Knowing the way Claude has played me, he's given me a real purpose on the team," Rolston said. "Also, the way our team plays on a nightly basis, that gives you confidence. Especially at my age, you need a purpose to play and I certainly have that here in Boston."
When Rolston returned, he did so humbly, rather than acting like he's played here before and knows what it takes to win in this city for these fans.
"I didn't get that impression," Kelly said. "You don't play 1,200-plus NHL games without being a good guy. Rollie is the definition of a good guy. It would have been easy for him to come in here and say, 'Oh, yeah, I've been here before' and make himself comfortable in a bad way, but he's been great. He knows it's a different team [now] from when he first played here. He's handled it extremely well coming into a place where he's played and he's familiar with a lot of people."
This time around, Rolston is hoping to help Boston repeat as Stanley Cup champions. If he does, he can recast his Bruins legacy, so he won't be remembered only as the guy who was traded for Ray Bourque.