May 11, 2013

Looking Back At Brian Rolston

As the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs continue we will see a number of players announce their retirement. One of the most prominent to do so thus far is slap-shot king Brian Rolston.

Brian Rolston appeared in 1,256 NHL games, scoring 342 goals, 419 assists and 761 points. He played with five teams: the New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild and New York Islanders. He helped New Jersey win their first Stanley Cup in 1995.

Rolston was selected 11th overall in the 1991 draft by the Devils. Rolston starred in the NCAA, scoring the  championship-clinching goal as a freshman for Lake Superior State University.

Rolston left university early to pursue his pro-hockey career. While he spent time apprenticing in the minor leagues the first couple of seasons, he was with the Devils when they won their first Stanley Cup in 1995.

Rolston played eight and a half seasons (over two stints) with the Devils. For many years Rolston was labelled as a strict defensive forward, as such he was very underrated. But over time, especially in Minnesota, he became a complete forward.

"When I first came in the league with New Jersey, I played in a defensive system with Jacques Lemaire as the coach. He put me on a checking line, so I have always been classified as a checker. As the years have gone on, I have put up better numbers. Here in Minnesota  my role is different. I've been called on to step up my game."

New Jersey goaltending great Martin Brodeur always appreciated Rolston├Ęs contributions to the team.

“He was instrumental in a lot of the success we had in New Jersey, including our first Stanley Cup, and I can’t say enough about the leadership and passion he brought to our team,” Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur told the New York Times.

The Devils traded Rolston to Colorado early in 1999-2000 season, in a package for Claude Lemieux. Mind you, Rolston did  not last long with the Avalanche. Later that same season he had the distinction of being the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade for one of the greatest players of all time. The Colorado Avalanche traded him to Boston as part of a package to land Raymond Bourque.

"When I arrived in Boston, the first thing anyone asked was "How does it feel to be traded for Ray Bourque?" And I was quick to point out it wasn't a one-for-one deal, it wasn't that at all. Ray is an icon in Boston, so I knew I wouldn't fill his shoes, but it was cool to be in that deal."

Rolston enjoyed several seasons in Boston, and then cashed in as an unrestricted free agent in 2006 when he signed on with the Minnesota Wild. He enjoyed some of his best seasons in Minny.

A shoot-first type player - with a canon of a slap shot - Rolston found good chemistry in Minny with Pierre Marc Bouchard. Bouchard was a wonderful little playmaker and understood how and when to distribute the puck to Rolston. The two thrived together. Rolston put together 3 consecutive seasons of more than 30 goals.

Rolston rounded out his career with another tour of duty with NJ and brief stops with the New York Islanders and again with the Boston Bruins.

A strong skater and admired leader, Rolston also enjoyed several stints of international hockey including 3 Olympics, 2 World Cups and 3 World Junior championships.

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