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Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, 41, is among NHL's best-conditioned players

On Manhattan Beach, Calif., is something called the sand dune. It is 100 yards long and 50 feet wide, and it rises at a 45-degree angle.

Walking to the top with legs churning and burning through soft sand takes about five minutes and pushes the heart rate to 160 beats per minute, Southern California fitness guru Scot Prohaska said.

"There are only a few guys who can run to the top without stopping," he said. "Dwayne Roloson is one of them."

He means the Lightning goalie, who at 41 years, 3 months, is the NHL's second-oldest player, behind the Bruins' Mark Recchi, 42, and one of only five 40-year-olds in the league.

Tampa Bay on Jan. 1 acquired Roloson from the Islanders to carry its goaltending load into what seems a certain playoff run. In other words, it is hitching its wagon to an old man in a young man's game.

But Roloson, of Simcoe, Ontario, is one of the league's best-conditioned athletes. He is such a workout freak, he exercises his eyes; yes, his eyes. He works out his mind before games with visualization exercises.

He stretches, lifts weights, uses resistance bands, pulls weighted sleds. Between major workouts, he does calisthenics wearing a vest weighted up to 60 pounds.

"He's a guy who can go all day long," said Prohaska, who runs a gym called Ekawa ("awake" spelled backward) in Huntington Beach, Calif., and is Roloson's longtime personal trainer.

"When he would bring me into town to work with him, every three hours he'd want to hit the track, hit the weight room. He has an unbelievable drive matched with endurance."

•••

Roloson apologized for the cliche but said age is just a number.

"It's one of those things. You're stamped, and that's your birthday," he said. "It's irrelevant."

He is playing like it. In four starts for Tampa Bay, he is 3-1-0 with two shutouts, both against Southeast Division rival Washington, a 1.71 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage.

He will start tonight against the Devils at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. If he starts Saturday at Carolina, he will have played in six of seven games. Though coach Guy Boucher said Roloson is "smart with his game" and "there is no loss of energy anywhere, which saves him from his age," he added, "We're going to have to manage it, yes."

Managing Roloson's offseason workouts is Prohaska's domain.

There is regular weight training. But there also are 300-pound squats with rubber bands with 120 more pounds of tension tied to the barbell.

The bands exert constant pressure, forcing Roloson to strain as much on the way down as up.

"He will squat with bands and immediately with no break will hop over a series of hurdles so there is this contrast from this heavy weight to his body weight, which gives him more of a neural charge," said Prohaska, who also trained former NHL players Rob Blake and James Patrick. "He has so much force coming across the crease, he has to stop, decelerate and go the other way."

To work legs and hips, there are forward, backward and sideway pulls over grass of a sled weighted with 200 pounds.

To work his upper body, Rolson grabs 12-foot straps on both sides of a sled weighted with 45 pounds. He raises his arms into a Y and four times pulls the sled 50 yards. That's quite a program for the 6-foot-1, 170-pounder, who is not exactly a specimen.

"There's nothing to the guy," Lightning strength coach Chuck Lobe marveled.

"He's in the best shape he's ever been in," said friend and former NHL goalie Darren Pang. "He takes care of himself. He's not a guy who goes out late. He knows what he has to do and knows there's no margin for error."

•••

So, what about those eye exercises? "Top secret," Roloson joked but declined to elaborate.

"The end point is, you train your eyes like you train your body," he said. "When your eyes are tired, they're telling your body it's tired, so if you train your eyes, the overall effect is you're less tired because your eyes aren't working as hard because they're conditioned properly."

Conditioning will be key if Roloson plays, as he said he wants, for the foreseeable future:

"It's uplifting mentally when you come into the situation we're in with the potential of being first overall, the potential of the playoffs. But it's uplifting for me just to play hockey. I want to keep going until my play drops to where I can't play, or I can't through injuries."

Which brings us back to the Manhattan Beach sand dune.

"A straight run to the top," Prohaska said. "Once I can get him to do that, he knows his conditioning is there and he's set to go. It's a security blanket for him. It's like King of the Hill."

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, 41, is among NHL's best-conditioned players 01/13/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 7:10am]

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