Thomas, Roloson took roads less traveled

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Thomas, Roloson took roads less traveled

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON To understand the upcoming battle between 37-year-old Tim Thomas and 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson in the Eastern Conference finals, the best place to turn is the past.

The two goalies have climbed, scratched and clawed their way to the top of their profession by defying the odds in their own respective ways. It makes them the most fascinating matchup in the upcoming series between the Bruins and the Lightning.

Thomas was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques 217th overall in 1994, but never got much of a shot in that organization. Roloson went undrafted before hitting Hockey East with UMass-Lowell in 1990 as a 21-year-old. Both have always shown an unwillingness to surrender to self-doubt or despair when things werent going well . . . which was most of the time early in their careers.

When a person has that strong of a will theyre going to find their place, and Thomas has done that, said University of Vermont goalie coach Terry Lovelette, who worked with Thomas at UVM. Its really impressive to see how long he held with it, how hard he worked for it and how absolutely wonderful it is that hes having the success hes experiencing right now. Because he certainly deserved it.

Brian DAccord was in charge of the Bruins' goaltenders during the Robbie Ftorek coaching era in Boston, and he vividly remembers his first contact with Thomas. It was 2001-02, and Thomas was in camp with fellow goalies Byron Dafoe and John Grahame.

Thomas outplayed both of them in the exhibition season, but it didn't matter. They had guaranteed contracts; Thomas didn't. Plus, the Bruins felt their goalie of the future -- Andrew Raycroft -- was waiting in the wings.

But when he got the inevitable word that he was being sent to Providence, Thomas didn't take the news without a fight.

It came down to the last day of camp," recalled D'Accord. "Dafoe was on the books for 3.1 million and Grahame was on the books for about 730,000, so there really wasnt any chance for Thomas to make the team even though he played really well. I used to go on the ice 40 minutes early with the goalies. Then-general manager Mike OConnell and Robbie Ftorek were up in the office giving guys the bad news, and they hadnt got to Timmy yet.

I walk into the locker room and theres Tim Thomas, half-dressed. I know that hes supposed to be cut and sent to Providence because he wasnt on the roster for practice. I didnt know what to do, so I asked him if hed checked in with anybody that morning.

"He looked at me and said, Hey, if they want to cut me then they can drag my ass off the ice.

"So I said Okay, lets go then! They put him on the roster for practice and then let him go afterwards.

Roloson has a similar story. When he was playing Junior 'B' hockey in Ontario, the only college team interested in him was Division III Plattsburgh State.

UMass-Lowell goaltending coach Mike Geragosian happened onto Roloson after losing a goalie prospect named Jeff Levy to the University of New Hampshire. Geragosian and then-Lowell assistant coach Blais McDonald traveled to a small Ontario town just north of Niagara Falls to watch Roloson, who was in his final year of junior eligibility.

After the first period, Geragosian -- now the goaltending coach at Boston University -- slipped a note to McDonald and told him not to open it until after the game.

Roloson stood on his head with a 54-save performance that forced the game into overtime. But when his team lost, he shattered his stick over the crossbar in a fit of pique.

Thats when I told Blais he could open up the note, said Geragosian.

The note read: If Roloson makes 50-something saves and snaps his stick over the crossbar in overtime, then this is our guy.

"So we decided then and there this kid was coming to Lowell," said Geragosian.

That consolation prize turned into an All-American goaltender.

You could see he had that willingness to work and that desire to compete, and the rest was history once he got there," said Geragosian. "He just kept getting better and better as he gained confidence and determination at Lowell.

Still, the road to this year's Eastern Conference semifinals wasn't smooth and straight for either of them. Tampa Bay is Roloson's sixth organization, and he didn't establish himself as a No. 1 NHL goalie until he was in his 30s. Thomas spent parts of four seasons playing in Europe, and was with the P-Bruins as recently as 2005-06 (at the age of 31). He's been Boston's top goalie since 2006-07, but many were clamoring for Tuukka Rask to get his job last season.

But both perservered. Its that unwillingness to surrender and unflagging belief in themselves that have pushed both Thomas and Roloson onward and upward in their careers, and its that little flicker of fire that keeps them going now at their advanced ages.

Fast-forward to the present.

Roloson arrived in Tampa Bay in the middle of the season after the Lightning had floundered badly with a combustible Mike SmithDan Ellis goaltending tandem.

Roloson has stabilized their team." said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "I think that is a pretty fair statement to make . . . He has brought some stability to that hockey club, and he has got some experience.

"He led his Edmonton team to the finals in 2005-06, although he got injured in that last series. (Roloson was hurt in the first game and didn't play again as the Oilers fell to the Carolina Hurricanes.) But hes certainly capable of doing that again.

As for Thomas, his Vezina-caliber regular season has continued into the postseason.

The Bruins have the No. 1 goaltender in the league, and I think in the end we have the same enigma as everybody else, said Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher. Nobody can beat this guy. Were no different. Its going to be extremely difficult. Hes shown he was the best in the regular season, and now in the playoffs hes shown he same. So theres a consistency there. I dont plan on him giving us any freebies whatsoever.

In the playoffs, there hasn't been a dime's worth of difference between them. They have identical 8-3 won-loss records. Roloson leads all playoff goalies with a .941 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average; Thomas is second in both categories at .937 and 2.03.

The pictures -- both this season and over their careers -- are so similar that Thomas feels a kinship for Roloson . . . even though their paths have never crossed more than a few games playedagainst each otherand they've neverspoken.

"The reason Roloson has been able to have an NHL career for so long is that hes been able to adapt his game to the way the NHL game has developed, said Thomas. Im along those similar lines. We both learned real technique at an older age, and for him maybe it was even at a little bit of an older age than I did.

For a while there he developed himself into a real butterfly goalie when thats what the NHL called for, and now its opened back up and hes had to adapt. Hes been able to do that, too.

Its been a long, long road for both. But that road may just deliver one of them to a Stanley Cup championship.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready to check out GLOW on Netflix.

*This video of a Vancouver Canucks draft pick tearing up while watching the video of his brother celebrating him getting picked is all that is right with the NHL Draft.  

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Adrian Dater has Avs first-round pick Cale Makar talking about his hockey background, and why it doesn’t matter.

*The Calgary Flames are excited about their prospects and the pieces they were able to acquire last weekend.

*The Washington Capitals have re-signed Brett Connolly for a couple of years at short money and he appears to have found a home in DC.

*The Chicago Blackhawks are still in talks with Marian Hossa about how to resolve his contract and the allergic skin condition that might have prematurely ended his hockey career.

*Will the Tampa Bay sports go through a dry spell when it comes to Hall of Fame athletes now that former Lighting forward Dave Andreychuk has been called to the Hockey Hall?

*It looks like young Pierre Luc Dubois will be put in a position to contribute with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.

*Alex Prewitt has a preview of the NHL free agency period and the stress levels that many players go through in it.

*For something completely different: This video of Drake and Will Ferrell hoop handshakes was pretty solid, and funny.

 

Haggerty: Jacobs may not be beloved, but he's Hall of Fame-worthy

Haggerty: Jacobs may not be beloved, but he's Hall of Fame-worthy

If it was based solely on his 42 years as owner of the Boston Bruins, it might be debatable as to whether Jeremy Jacobs would have been selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Bruins have won one championship and been to a handful of Stanley Cup Finals during Jacobs' long stewardship, of course. They also enjoyed the longest running playoff streak (29 years) in NHL history, though it began before he purchased the franchise. Altogether, the B's have won one Cup, four conference championships, two Presidents' trophies, 15 division championships, and 35 Stanley Cup playoff berths during the Jacobs Era.

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But Jacobs didn't make the Hall of Fame solely on his accomplishments with the Bruins organization. He's being inducted in the "builder” category, which is defined as "coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”  In addition to overseeing the Bruins over the last four-plus decades, he has been a power broker at the league level for just as long.

"I am flattered to be included in with this great group of 2017 inductees, and I am humbled to be included with the legends of hockey that went before me,” said Jacobs. "Owning the Boston Bruins for 42 years has been one of the most rewarding honors of my life. I am indebted to our team's leaders and players, but most of all, to our fans, for giving me a broad and deeply appreciative perspective of the game."

The 2011 Stanley Cup victory was the overriding on-ice moment in his stewardship of the team, and the Jacobs family has had a major, altruistic impact in Boston. No one should overlook the Boston Bruins Foundation, which has touched so many lives with the $28 million that's been awarded to those in need since its inception in 1993.

Unfortunately, Jacobs will always have a reputation with a large portion of the Bruins fan base that his ownership wasn't willing to spend enough for truly competitive teams. At times he was viewed as an absentee owner living in Buffalo, overseeing the team from afar while Harry Sinden ran the operation. Those fans hold that grudge even today, despite the Bruins consistently spending to the salary cap ceiling while fielding competitive teams. They view Monday's Hall of Fame announcement as something akin to Montgomery Burns being inducted into the Springfield Hall of Fame.

Cam Neely disagrees.

"As a player, I knew of Mr. Jacobs' passion for the Bruins,” said Neely, who has served as Bruins president for nearly a decade after a Hall of Fame playing career highlighted by his years in Boston. "Over the past decade while in the front office, I have seen firsthand his dedication to winning, by consistently providing the Bruins the resources that we need to compete for Stanley Cup Championships and also his unmatched commitment to growing the game of hockey."

That commitment to hockey is a key factor in Jacobs' Hall of Fame selection.

Jacobs was unanimously voted in as chairman of the NHL Board of Governors in 2007, and he's been a major driving force in each of the last couple of oft-contentious CBA negotiations. While Jacobs clearly had a hand in the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season due to a labor dispute, and in the lockout-shortened season of 2013, those CBA negotiations ultimately led to the imposition of a salary cap and a pathway for small-market NHL teams to survive as the cost of doing hockey business continues to go up.

Without Jacobs as an often hawkish, hard-line owner, there's a chance that a team like the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators might not have been able to survive in the NHL, and it's highly doubtful they'd be able to be as competitive as they are now if teams like Toronto, New York and Chicago could outspend everybody else. So there's no denying the seismic impact that Jacobs made at the league-wide level with his leadership and commitment to growing the game, and that the NHL is better off for the battles waged in collective bargaining while he's been in a position of power.

If you polled every single Bruins fan on the street, it's unlikely he'd be a populist choice for the Hall of Fame. The lean budgetary years durinhg the playing days of Neely, Ray Bourque and others will always be part of the Spoked B history. Some will hold those grudges forever, which is part of makes us who we are as a fan base.

But faithful, rabid fans continue to stream into TD Garden, continue to spend money to support their favorite hockey team, and continue to provide the kind of support that's led to a 338-game home sellout streak. It's a sign Jacobs and Bruins ownership continue to do things very right, even if we shouldn't be scheduling any popularity contests anytime soon.