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NCAA PRO-file with Brian Rolston

by Bob Snow /
Brian Rolston was a Motown kid from nearby Flint, Mich., when he began his career on the frozen sheet.

And that was a major influence on his road to reaching one of hockey's most exclusive triple-crown clubs -- an NCAA championship, a Stanley Cup and an Olympic silver medal.

"I played all my amateur hockey in the Detroit area and then juniors," said the 36-year-old New Jersey Devils forward about his decision to play at Lake Superior State in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., in the early 1990s. 

"Brian was the most talented kid in the Detroit area when we recruited him," said Jeff Jackson, now the coach at Notre Dame. "I also had a previous relationship with the Rolston family as I coached his older brother (Ron) in juniors, and he was my first assistant coach at Lake Superior the year before Brian came. I knew what kind of character he had above and beyond his playing ability."

"I got recruited to a few different schools," said Rolston, "and ended up choosing Lake State. Jeff Jackson was there and my brother was the assistant coach. They had a great program."

Indeed they did.

Led by Jim Dowd and Doug Weight in the late 1980s under coach Frank Anzalone, the Lakers began a nine-year postseason run in 1988 that included three national championships -- in 1988 under Anzalone and in '92 and '94 under Jackson.

In 1993, the Lakers came within one historic period of making what would have been three-consecutive titles. Only Michigan from 1951-53 has accomplished such a feat in NCAA history. 

"I knew it was the right fit for me," said Rolston, who scored the game-winning goal in the third period of the 1992 title game against Wisconsin.

"It was just kind of a scrum behind the net," said Rolston. "I came out from behind and kind of had a wrap-around. Was looking to pass, but decided to shoot at the net and it went in short side. Fond memories, obviously."

Rolston's sophomore season ended with one of the most dominant one-period performances in NCAA history, when Maine's Paul Kariya and Jim Montgomery teamed up for three unanswered, third-period goals in less than five minutes to erase a 4-2 Lake State lead en route to a 5-4 final, with Garth Snow pitching a shutout the last 20 minutes for the Black Bears.

"We knew we were playing a great hockey team," Rolston said of the '93 finale. "So when they started to come on, it's tough to stop the momentum. I was talking to someone from Maine recently. Late in that game we had an opportunity to (tie it). We think it was under the crossbar. I'm not sure (it wasn't a goal). I wasn't in the play and it was before replay.

"You got to take your hat off to that (Maine) team.

"And what would have been my junior year, they (Lake Superior) went on to win another national championship. Missed out on that, but a lot of good things came after I left."

"Brian was instrumental in us winning the 1992 championship with his skating ability and his shot," Jackson said. "Even as a freshman that year, it became obvious that he was one of our go-to guys -- tremendous presence in the locker room. You could certainly tell that he was motivated to become a great player."

New Jersey saw that potential in Rolston and made him the 11th pick in the 1991 Entry Draft, before he put up a first-season totals of 14 goals and 37 points in 37 games as a freshman at Lake Superior. As a sophomore, he had 33 goals and 64 points in 39 games.

"When I decided to leave after the second year, it wasn't a matter of thinking I was going to the National Hockey League," Rolston said. "I wasn't sure I was ready for that, but the opportunity to be on the (1994) Olympic team. I went to that team and then signed a pro contract that summer after. I said, if I can play for the Devils, fine, but I wanted the Olympic experience that comes with playing that season on the U.S. National Team."

As a rookie in 1995, Rolston hoisted the Stanley Cup, becoming one of the very few in hockey history to win an NCAA championship and a Stanley Cup as a first-year player.

"Brian was instrumental in us winning the 1992 championship with his skating ability and his shot. Even as a freshman that year, it became obvious that he was one of our go-to guys -- tremendous presence in the locker room. You could certainly tell that he was motivated to become a great player." -- Jeff Jackson

In 2002, Rolston added an Olympic silver to his hardware collection.

"Good things like these happen and it's special for sure," said Rolston, now in the second of a four-year deal that puts him back in a Devils uniform after runs in Colorado, Boston and Minnesota.

"To have done these, I'll look back when I get to my retirement. They're all special. You dream about winning the Stanley Cup. I did that my first year and been chasing it ever since. The silver medal was a great thing to be a part of, especially for your country -- and then win it all for your school."

The major influences in Rolston's career?

"I had Jackson and (Jacques) Lemaire most of my career," said Rolston of his coaches. "Jeff knew the defensive aspects, stickler for some things. You need that as a young player. And Jacques is the best coach as far as I'm concerned. He's a real teacher."

For Rolston, the short-term goal is simple.

"I want to get back to where I was in Minnesota," he said. "Last year I had a tough year; getting injured early in the season didn't help. So I'm trying to get back my game physically and mentally. I think I'm getting there."

Last season, he had 32 points in just 64 games; it was his lowest point total since 1999-2000, when he had 31.

In a seven-season span, from 2000-08, he missed a total of 10 games, and had four 30-goal seasons.

This season, he has 4 goals and 7 points in 18 games, giving him 305 goals and 673 points in 1,059 games.

With three young sons, the long-term picture for Rolston is black-and-white.

Or maybe Laker blue and gold.

"We do think about college and hockey for the boys," said Rolston. "One son is into hockey big time. The other two -- we'll give them time.

"No thoughts about after my career is over. I've been fortunate; I don't have to worry about things when I retire. I'll spend time with my children and that is what's most important to me right now and as I go forward.

"Things will come to you. I'm a firm believer in that."

That they have for Brian Rolston -- since those early days in Motown.

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