Monday, February 9, 2015

Rollie Melanson Autograph Card

Roland ''Rollie'' Melanson's life reads like hockey's version of a Mark Twain book, a plain-spoken Acadian man from small-town New Brunswick, who lives through great highs, some lows, but tries to keep an even keel all the time, despite not always being completely understood anywhere he went.

You want highs? CHL rookie of the year (Ken McKenzie Trophy, with the Indianapolis Checkers in 1980-81), for starters, then a Jennings Trophy, a Second-Team All-Star nod and a second-place finish among Vezina voting in the NHL (1982-83, with the New York Islanders), followed by a 10th-place finish in the Vezina race the following season. Oh, and three Stanley Cups as part of their dynasty.

You want lows? He spent parts of 5 seasons with 4 different AHL teams in the decade following that, finishing his career with a 1992-93 stint in the then-Colonial Hockey League (ColHL), which folded in 2006-07 after a decade of being called the United Hockey League (UHL), and 7 games in the AHL with the Saint John Flames in 1993-94. Granted, he was named the ColHL's playoff MVP as his Brantford Smokes won the championship, but still.

Which is an odd turn of events in and of itself, considering he stole the show at the 1991-92 Montréal Canadiens' training camp, posting two shutouts and two one-goal games in four starts, essentially blocking the Habs' try at a youth movement and stalling four kids in the AHL (André Racicot, Frédéric Chabot, Jean-Claude Bergeron and Les Kuntar). The regular season, however, only allowed him to go 5-3-0 in 9 games, with a good 2.68 GAA and a .887 save percentage.

After retiring, he became a goaltending coach with the Habs, turning Jeff Hackett into a top-10 goalie, helping José Theodore become a Hart and Vezina winner, making Cristobal Huet a Crozier Award contender, and starting Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price on their merry ways.

He then moved onto the Vancouver Canucks, where former Vezina finalist Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider had some good seasons, and Ryan Miller is shining anew this year.

Again, highs (great individual seasons) and lows (getting fired from one spot, two huge goaltending controversies - arguably the two biggest of the last two decades - and some fall-from-grace seasons as well). And weirdness, such as when he gave an interview to a small paper in his hometown and claimed Price had lost his game when he left, rightfully so to some extent, if you forget that the slide had actually started under Melanson's reign. What was weirdest wasn't the candor with which he talked about a former student of his, but the fact that he's under contract from one organization talking about a player under contract with another.

But that's Rollie The Goalie for you: a whole mess of Frenglish, highs and lows, and a gift for hyperbole. He didn't revolutionize the art of goaltending as François Allaire has, but he can be credited with perfecting one move most NHL goalies started doing after Hackett/Theodore did, and that's putting the opposite pad down along the ice when the puck's in the corner, protecting the bottom of the net from oddball deflections, also known as Dead-Arm + One Knee Down, which from the angle below also covers the five-hole area and barely leaves the CPSG (top-corner on the blocker side) open:
And so it is a pleasure to share this beautiful 2011-12 Between The Pipes (10th Anniversary) card (#A-RM of the Authentic GoalieGraphs and Decades - The 1980s subsets) from In The Game, showing him in the Islanders' classic blue (away) uniform:
It's signed on-sticker in black sharpie, and you can decipher almost every letter except the last three. As a kid, I started out wearing one of those Cooper helmets with the cage.

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