- Big Bad Blog - http://bigbadblog.weei.com -

Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson stand the test of time



Goaltending is the one position on the ice where age and experience may mean the most.

Just ask Tim Thomas [1], Dwayne Roloson and their respective teams as they get ready for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night at TD Garden.

Roloson leads all NHL [2] playoff goalies with a 2.01 goals against in 11 games, posting an 8-3 record.

Thomas is right behind him at 2.03, with an identical 8-3 mark.

Thomas just turned 37 on April 15 while Roloson turns 42 this October.

“I think if age is a factor in any way, it’s actually a benefit to both of us,” Thomas said. “The experiences that we’ve been through just to get to these points in our career, they actually do help. They do help in these playoff-type atmosphere. If anything, I’d say that the age works to our advantage.

“But in this case we’re so close and we’re both in the higher age category for this business that I don’t think it’s really an advantage either way.”

“When it comes to goaltending, I think experience is a big factor,” Bruins coach Claude Julien [3] said. “You can have a good young goaltender, but if he doesn’t have experience of pressure in playoffs, you see what happens. Those guys are old enough, have enough experience, been through the grinds, the ups and downs, they’ve been able to handle it well.

“Certainly physically they got to battle. As a team you try to make it as easy as possible on those guys, clearing rebounds, not giving second shots, not giving poor-angle shots, try to make their job as easy as you can.”

Lightning coach Guy Boucher is well aware of how dominating Thomas was against Philadelphia and that he’s capable of repeating it again this round.

“Reality is whatever we have planned for Tim Thomas he’s probably going to figure it out,” Boucher said Friday. “It’s in our heads. Make no mistake.”

It should surprise no one that the two have formed a bond over the years. And even more to the point, their careers actually linked going all the way back to when Thomas was thinking of going to U-Mass Lowell, only to choose Vermont since Roloson was already the goalie in Lowell.

And not just the goalie but a Hobey Baker Award nominee and NCAA [4] All-American with the River Hawks.

“When I decided where I had to go to school, UMass-Lowell was one of the schools that recruited me,” Thomas said. “Dwayne Roloson was a junior who was an All-American who was returning as a senior the next year. The coach of UMass Lowell, he was up front and said they wanted me to go there, but if I went, I could either redshirt or probably play max three games. That’s ultimately why I ended up going to Vermont, because I had a chance to play right away.”

Remarkably, Roloson went undrafted after graduating. He signed as a free agent with the Calgary Flames [5] in 1994. After splitting time between the Flames and their American Hockey League counterpart, the Saint John Flames. Roloson spent time with the Flames, Sabres, and Wild before latching on with the Edmonton Oilers [6] in 2005. In his first season, he led his team to the Stanley Cup [7] finals, where they lost to Carolina in seven games. Now, Tim Thomas is trying to get to a finals himself.

“There are some similarities between me and Dwayne’s style,” Thomas said. “They’re not obviously completely the same. I think it’s a matter of you have to evolve to try to put yourself at the highest levels in this game. I mean, I know a little bit of Dwayne’s background. I did play against him my freshman year when we were in college, saw his style back then. Then I saw his style as it evolved on TV to the style that he had, for example, when he was with the Edmonton Oilers. Now that style has changed even more, probably as a necessity of the new NHL [8], which changed my style again.”

And like Roloson before joining the Oilers in 2005, Thomas went to Finland to rediscover himself.

“I’ve been through actually a few style changes throughout my career out of necessity,” Thomas said Friday. “Coming out of college, I had absolutely no style. But I was still was having some success at least at that level with it. My first year pro, I had to learn the basic Québec butterfly techniques just to stay in the game because I knew that I wasn’t going to make it to the next level, not because I couldn’t stop the puck doing it my way, but because I looked different than everybody else. My first Colorado [Avalanche [9]] camp, they drilled and drilled and drilled me on learning these Québec techniques, which at the time made it more difficult for me to save the puck. I had easier ways that I could get it done.

“I began to learn to play another way. It probably turned into, just like it has for me and Dwayne Roloson, a hybrid. I think the major force for the change in style in my career, and probably Dwayne’s, is necessity.”

“For me, I think both of those guys battle hard,” Julien said Friday. “Both of those guys have had to work hard to get to where they are today. Whether one of them was battling with the minors, the NHL, then the other one was the backup, trying to work as the number one, they’ve had their share of challenges which I think has really given them an opportunity to build some character and be excitable facing these kind of times.
I think both of them are worthy of what they’re getting: recognition. They’ve been good for their teams and they’ve played big parts in their teams being here. “