One-on-One With Brian Rolston
The Islanders went into the off-season with a game plan of finding a top-six forward that could help the team transition from the rebuilding phase into a playoff contender. With Marty Reasoner signed to round out the bottom two lines, the Islanders traded oft-injured winger Trent Hunter to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for 18-year veteran Brian Rolston.
Rolston carries a booming slap shot along with an impressive resume that will add veteran leadership and depth to the Islanders line-up.
With training camp just a few weeks away, Rolston called me this afternoon to discuss his expectations for the upcoming year, his experiences with the Devils last season and the potential changes to the game that are being tested by the NHL.
So Brian, what were your initial thoughts when you heard that you were being traded to the New York Islanders?
I was really happy about it. As you know, it hadn’t really gone too smoothly in Jersey for me. I really didn’t feel like I got the chance to play in the same capacity I did in Minnesota. I was happy to get a new fresh start somewhere and hopefully play in the capacity that which I can do well individually and help the team win.
Last year was a hard year with the Devils that began with injury and eventually saw a demotion to their AHL affiliate. Why do you think things played out the way that they did and how do you see that changing with the Islanders this season?
Well it basically was about money, that’s what it was, plain and simple. I started out the season obviously with a sports hernia. Came back, played at a third line capacity. Really didn’t get a lot of power play time, so it was difficult. It was difficult to come back. After I got waived I stayed with the team obviously and had a strong second half. I had Jacques [Lemaire], he came back, which I felt comfortable with him. But he gave me an opportunity to play at a second line capacity and played me first power play unit and penalty kill and I put up the numbers that I’m used to putting up. And that’s why I’m excited to go to the Islanders. I think they have a good young team and I hope that I get that chance to play at that same capacity and I will produce if I get that opportunity.
Although the Devils started the year poorly, you were one of the key factors for a turnaround at the end of the season and helped them make a last minute push for the playoffs. What would you say changed in that locker room?
There was a lot of changes. Obviously I think some of the guys, I think a lot of the guys quit on John MacLean, quite frankly. You know, when Jacques came back, Jacques kind of took a new approach and I think he had some credibility. Not that Johnny doesn’t, but I think with some players he may not have, which is tough, but that’s the reality of it. It was a difficult season and when things go wrong things really go wrong and I’ve never really been a part of anything like that. And I’ve really never been a part of the way the second half went, winning almost twenty in a row. I’ve never been on a team that was as bad as we were or as good as we were. I think that if we would have gotten into the playoffs that we could have really would have made a good run.
So is it safe to say you are looking forward to that first game when the Islanders play your former team?
I’m looking forward to it. I have nothing against the Devils. Lou [Lamoriello] didn’t send me down. He could have. He treated me, it was a money issue and I realized it and you realize what a business it is and I’m mature enough to know that. And I’m excited to play against them for sure. I think the Islanders, I think we have a great hockey team and I’m looking forward to playing next year and getting into the playoffs. That should be our goal.
Have you found a place to stay on Long Island yet?
I have not yet. I live in Michigan in the off-season. I’m going to find a place when I get back. I have kids that are in school in New Jersey so they’re going to stay in New Jersey. I’m going to commute when I can but I’m also going to get a place there.
Was there anyone that immediately reached out to you from the Islanders organization besides Garth Snow that was looking to welcome you to the team?
John Tavares, actually text me which is very nice and Doug Weight, who I played with in the Olympics and World Cups and things like that. And also he’s a Michigan guy that I know pretty well and he welcomed me to the team. So I’m really excited about it. And obviously Garth, I played with Garth as well so it’s just exciting to be part of the organization. It’s going in the right direction and I’m really looking forward to it.
You already have one Stanley Cup on your resume and are in the final year of your current contract as you approach 1,200 games played in your 19th year in the NHL. How important is it to you to help this team finally reach the playoffs and make a push for a championship?
It’s very important. I think that I had said this before in interviews that this team is all these young players that are first round picks. Guys that are great hockey players; Matt Moulson, Tavares, Okposo, Comeau. All of these players are great players. I’m probably missing a few but they’re all going into careers and they’ve had the opportunity to kind of get the feeling of the league. It’s time to take the next step and that is to compete for the Stanley Cup. I think those guys are poised and ready for that and I’m really excited to be a part of that.
You’re coming to a locker room that has a bunch of guys that were probably collecting your hockey card as kids and now can call you their teammate. Do you expect it to be a tough transition from a room filled with veterans to a team filled with a younger atmosphere?
No I think it’s going to be a lot easier actually. I was in a very similar situation in Minnesota, I went into a young environment and I’m looking forward to that again. I think that young guys, veterans sometimes get set in their ways, especially in the Devils organization. I think some guys get set in their ways a little bit. With the Islanders organization, we can help the kids. I think we just have a good group that wants to buy into what Jack [Capuano] is trying to accomplish. I think that’s the most important thing if you want to win.
The NHL is currently testing out certain new rule changes to the game. Some ideas being considered are 3-on-3 overtime play, five players in the shootout with shooters having the ability to shoot more than once, adjustments to power play time and removing the trapezoid behind the net. What are your thoughts on the current state of the game and the changes that may or may not be coming in the future?
Well I was reading a little about what they’re trying to integrate, I think they’re doing their due diligence. With the camps that they have and they have these kids doing the different rules and how they will play out. I don’t foresee any huge changes in the game. I know that they want to have more goals and they’re talking about having a power play go for two minutes long whether you score or not. Changes like that I think would be good for the game but I don’t think they’re going to be quick to throw all these new rules and you got to keep the tradition of the game.
Is there anything specific that you would like to see changed?
Not necessarily. I guess just don’t go off the page too much where the game actually changes. I’m all for getting more opportunities to score. It would make it more fun for the fans. But you have to keep in mind those tight games, the 0-0, 1-0 games, those are exciting to the fans too. You don’t want to get into a situation where you’re scoring so much that, I don’t think this will happen, but you get into a situation where you’re scoring so much like lacrosse or something. Then you start getting numb to that as well so I don’t think they’re going to make huge changes.
Stay tuned for an e-mail interview with Mark Streit that I am expecting back in the near future.
Follow me on Twitter!