SUN Hockey Pool

Increased competition

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

After a thrilling ride deep into the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, followed by a knee injury that ate into what was left of his off-season preparation time, Dwayne Roloson spent most of last season trying to catch his breath.

And that's not always easy when the head coach is afraid to give your backup any work.

This year things will be a lot different for the Edmonton Oilers netminder.

Missing the playoffs guaranteed the veteran plenty of time to rest, recover and whip himself into shape, and the arrival of Mathieu Garon means Roloson will get a lot more rest than he ever had here before.

"You never want that much time off in the summer," said Roloson. "Nobody ever wants to miss the playoffs, but in the end it helped.

"I literally had five or six weeks last year to work on everything else once my knee was 100% to go full bore. I probably wasn't as strong or as fit as I am this year."

Not by a long shot.

"This year I was able to get good workouts in. Last year I was more focusing on rehabbing my knee.

"It's totally different. I didn't have to worry about rehabbing anymore, just focus on getting stronger all the way around."

Roloson, with two years left on the three-year $11 million contract he signed after leading Edmonton to the final, looked sharp in the preseason and is anxious to show, a few days shy of his 38th birthday, that there are still plenty of saves left in those pads of his.

He knows that once a player hits a certain age, about 37 or 38, people start wondering out loud if it's time to get the pasture ready.

"For me it doesn't really matter, I just go out and try to prove them wrong," he said. "Obviously there's lot of people who are bothered by it, but for me personally I try and prove them wrong.

"Look at Detroit, Dominik's 42 or 43 and still playing, still playing well. For me if I stay healthy and stay fit, I could play as long as I can."

It helps that Roloson doesn't have a lot of miles on him - just 356 career starts - and MacTavish thinks it'll also help that he won't have a lot of miles put on him this year.

MacTavish envisions Garon playing 32 games this year, a huge amount for a backup, but he thinks it'll be Roloson rested and Garon sharp.

"He's better (when he's rested)," MacTavish said of Roloson. "I noticed it at the end of the year, when he was coming in after Jussi played pretty regularly at the end, he looked better."

Roloson, who did at times look worn out by a 68-game workload last season, says he's much fresher this time around and wouldn't mind a similar schedule.

"For me, I like to play and I like to play a lot," he said. "It's a lot easier when you're playing all the time, you feel ready and focused all the time, but it's out of my control, it's really up to the coaching staff."

With a 50-32 split already, it wouldn't take much for the situation to evolve into one where the hot goalie plays until he cools off. It's good, healthy competition, but it's also a goaltending controversy waiting to happen.

But the coach and the starter say they're not the least bit worried about that.

"I haven't given it any thought," said MacTavish. "Nor do I plan to, it's just whatever's best for the team."

Adds Roloson:"My focus is on playing hockey. I can't control what he's doing or what management decides to do. Whenever they tell me I'm playing, I have to be ready to play and give our guys a chance to win."


Videos

Photos