BRANDON — Dwayne Roloson did his best recently to convince an acquaintance his age is "just a number."
"Just because you're born on a certain day, people think it's an issue," he said.
Actually, it kind of is.
The Lightning goaltender, the league's oldest player, will be 42 on Oct. 12, and he is the only player in the league born in the 1960s (1969). All of which makes the level of play he has maintained even more noteworthy.
But it also means the questions he faced last season about handling the physical and mental demands of being a No. 1, especially through a long playoff run, are a year more relevant.
Ask away, Roloson said at the Ice Sports Forum. "It has no bearing on me at all. I make sure I'm physically ready to play and make sure I'm healthy to play."
The NHL has had its share of 40-somethings, including Chris Chelios, who played until 48, and goalie Johnny Bower, who played until 45.
Mark Recchi, 43 last season, retired after being an integral part of the Bruins' Stanley Cup championship. Gordie Howe played until he was 52.
The fountain of youth for Roloson, 18-12-4 with four shutouts for the Lightning after his Jan. 1 acquisition from the Islanders, has been conditioning. He takes it so seriously, he said he stayed in Buffalo to train after his 1999-2000 season with the Sabres while his wife, Melissa, pregnant with their oldest child, Brett, went back to their Toronto-area home.
"That was intense physical training, and now that's his norm," said Scot Prohaska, Roloson's longtime trainer. "He's still right there."
"I know my first few years pro I wasn't in as good shape as I am now," Roloson said. "It's just part of growing up and maturing and knowing what you have to do to play every day and be ready for a full season."
Even so, the Lightning is not taking any chances. It signed veteran Mathieu Garon, 33, as Roloson's backup, and though coach Guy Boucher wouldn't put a number on it, the expectation is Garon will play about 30 regular-season games.
Boucher did say he likely will not play Roloson in back-to-back games, especially on the road.
It's all part of a plan to keep Roloson fresh and avoid what happened during last season's Eastern Conference final with the Bruins in which Roloson was benched for a game and Boucher saying the goalie needed a break.
"You do want to keep your finger on the pulse," Prohaska said. "He's such a competitor and wants to be out there so badly, you have to communicate with him throughout the year."
It will help having Roloson with the team from season's start.
"That way the plan is our plan," Boucher said. "When you take somebody in trade, you can't really tell how much ice time he's gotten in practice, how much time he's gotten in games. It's hard to evaluate his limits. Now we know, and we can have a plan with him so he can be at his best on a consistent basis."
Meanwhile, Roloson — in his 14th season and with a new one-year, $3 million deal that has an additional $500,000 in potential playoff bonuses — is not acting his age.
"You look at him and you couldn't tell he is 41," Garon said. "He still looks young. The more I look at him, it makes me believe I can play a long time."
As Roloson said of anyone's age, "Realistically, it's just a number."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.