Roloson shines with hard work, humility

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- During the second period of Sunday's All-Star Game, Western Conference goalies Dwayne Roloson and Marty Turco sat together on the end of the bench while Tomas Vokoun manned the net. Turco had finished his turn as a nationally televised target, stopping nine of 10 Eastern Conference shots. Roloson, meanwhile, was waiting his chance to step into the crosshairs in front of his hometown fans.

The two rival stoppers have a history dating back to 1993-94, when an 18-year-old Turco went on a recruiting trip to UMass-Lowell. At that time, Roloson was the senior starter for the then-Lowell Chiefs. Despite Roloson's best sales pitch, Turco still opted for his first choice, the University of Michigan.

"We've known each other for a long while, so it was a good chance to talk about the weekend and catch up a little bit," said 34-year-old Roloson, who turned back six of seven shots in the final period of the East's nondescript 6-4 win over the West. "It was nice because it made it easy not to think about playing until it was time for me to get in there."

When Roloson finally got in there, the home crowd treated him to a loud ovation.

"That was great to see," Turco said. "He's put a lot of hard work into it. He's been playing really well for them, but he's always been a nice guy and a real humble guy."

Back in September 2002, when the league awarded the 2004 All-Star Game to Minnesota, most figured Roloson -- on his third NHL team and only one season removed from his fifth stint in the AHL -- would need a ticket to get into the league's annual star fest.

In the 17 months since then, Roloson has gradually established himself as a legitimate NHL goaltender. Last season, splitting time with Manny Fernandez, Roloson recorded 23 wins and a 2.00 goals-against average, both career bests. In the postseason, he backstopped the Wild's conference semifinal comeback from a 3-1 deficit against the Canucks. This year, he has established himself as the club's No. 1 goalie, with a 13-13-8 record and a 1.98 GAA.

While his surprising All-Star appearance certainly has increased his national profile, Roloson isn't quite sure where it figures on his cluttered professional résumé.

After finishing his senior season at Lowell as a Hobey Baker finalist, he signed as a free agent with the Calgary Flames in 1994, but spent his first two professional seasons with their American Hockey League affiliate in St. John, New Brunswick. After making his NHL debut in December 1996 -- a 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings -- Roloson was caught in a goalie glut in Calgary and was too old to return to the AHL without having to be placed on waivers. After his contract expired in 1998, Roloson found a home on the Buffalo Sabres bench watching Dominik Hasek play. Although he was with the Sabres during their run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1999, he played only 32 regular-season games as The Dominator's backup. He signed with the St. Louis Blues in 2000 and accepted an assignment to their AHL team in Worcester, Mass., in order to play regularly. An AHL goalie of the year performance that season led him to Minnesota and his first All-Star Game.

"I think it's too early to tell where this ranks in my career," said Roloson, reflecting on his first NHL All-Star appearance. "It was definitely special. Someday, when I finish playing, it will be great to look back on this weekend and remember how much fun it was."

Roloson thrilled the home crowd -- and many family members visiting from his hometown of Simcoe, Ontario -- with a couple of dazzling saves during his 20-minute appearance. His best stop, a diving midair stick blade stop of a Daniel Alfredsson shot, stopped the Senators' right winger from completing his hat trick.

"I just threw my body across the net," Roloson said. "I really don't know if I got it with the stick or if it hit the side of the net."

If there was any doubt about Alfredsson's shot, there was none about Martin St. Louis' chance a few minutes later. The shifty little winger from Tampa Bay somehow wiggled from behind the net through the top of the crease. But before St. Louis could pull the trigger off his forehand, Roloson slid across to deny the chance.

"Marty [St. Louis] is a really talented guy," said Roloson, who was schooled by St. Louis during the breakaway portion of the SuperSkills Competition on Saturday. "He came out so quick. I just did my best to stay with him and I got a piece of it."

Roloson will have more than a couple of great saves to remember his weekend. He had a new mask specially made for the occasion. The simple design featured several stars and included the Wild logo. After the game, each member of the Western Conference team signed the mask.

"I'm going to keep it in a special place," Roloson said. "Someday, I can pass it on to my sons."

Roloson also left the weekend with a nice compliment from the kid he tried to help recruit a decade ago.

"It's a lot of perseverance," Turco said of his old friend's career journey. "It's pretty tough to stay with it at times when things are not going your way. I'm sure he always believed in himself. That definitely helped him handle the ups and downs. Some guys could have packed it in, but I'm sure the Wild and their fans are glad he didn't."

E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.