— In 1933, Cuban right-hander Dolf Luque became the oldest pitcher to win a World Series when, at the age of 43, he led the New York Giants to a series-clinching victory over the Washington Senators.
In 1999, John Elway brought armchair quarterbacks out of their seats when, at the age of 38, he became the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
Pretty impressive feats, to be sure.
Beginning Saturday night, Dwayne Roloson will be chasing his own piece of sporting history when the 41-year-old goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning continues his quest to become the oldest starting goalie to win a Stanley Cup since Johnny Bower led the Toronto Maple Leafs to a championship in 1967.
Bower was 42 years old at the time and did not wear a goalie mask, which explains why, at 86, he now jokes that his facial scars are “covered up by wrinkles.”
Fittingly, when Roloson skates onto the ice for the start of the Eastern Conference finals, he will be matched against Boston Bruins' 37-year-old netminder Tim Thomas, another well-traveled puck stopper with equal parts salt and pepper in his playoff beard.
Call it the battle of the geezer goalies.
Roloson has allowed an average of just 2.01 goals per game in the playoffs and has stopped more than 94 percent of the shots he’s faced, both tops among playoff starters. As a result, his fifth-seeded Lightning knocked off the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games and shocked the top-seeded Washington Capitals in a four-game sweep to reach the conference finals for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.
Thomas has been nearly as dominant for the Bruins. He’s allowed 2.03 goals per game and has a save percentage just under 94 percent as the third-seeded Bruins survived a seven-game series against the sixth-seeded Montreal Canadiens, then swept the second-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in Round 2.
The Bruins are in the conference finals for the first time since 1992 and are looking for their first Stanley Cup since Bobby Orr last raised the silver chalice 39 years ago.
Thomas, who was born and raised in Flint, Mich., wasn’t alive to see Boston fans flood Quincy Market in that 1972 celebration, but Roloson was, albeit in diapers in the Canadian town of Simcoe, Ontario, where he grew up near Lake Erie.
Both goalies took the collegiate route to the NHL. Roloson left Canada to attend the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, where he was a first-team All-American in 1994, and Thomas played four years at the University of Vermont, where he was a first-team All-American two years later.
Despite their collegiate success, neither goaltender was highly regarded by NHL teams and spent the early part of their careers wandering from team to team. Roloson went undrafted and later signed a free-agent contract with the Calgary Flames, his first of six NHL teams.
Thomas was taken by the Quebec Nordiques, a team no longer in existence, with the 217th pick of the 1994 NHL draft but never played for them. In fact, he didn’t become a full-time starter in the NHL until he was 32.
Both goalies are making up for lost time this spring, laugh lines and all.
Roloson’s story is the more remarkable of the two. After stints with the Flames, Sabres, Wild and Oilers, Roloson signed a two-year, $5 million contract with the perpetually downtrodden New York Islanders in the summer of 2009 and appeared to be well on his way to retirement midway through this season.
That changed New Year’s Day when the Lightning, unhappy with goaltenders Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, traded minor-league defenseman Ty Wishart to the Islanders for Roloson, one of only 11 NHL goalies who have played after turning 41.
A slender 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Roloson had an immediate impact, recording a 1-0 shutout over Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals in his Lightning debut and going 18-12-4 to lead the Lightning into the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
Thomas, who is nicknamed ‘Tank” because of his short, stocky frame — he’s generously listed as 5-foot-11 and 201 pounds — took a similarly circuitous route to the Eastern Conference finals.
Thomas bounced around the minor leagues and Europe, playing for teams such as the Birmingham Bulls, Houston Aeros, Detroit Vipers and three different teams in Sweden and Finland before joining the Bruins in 2005, more than 11 years after he was drafted.
Thomas’ dogged competitiveness and unpredictability between the pipes carried him to the top of the NHL’s goaltending fraternity in 2009 when he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.
The Bruins rewarded Thomas with a four-year, $23 million contract extension, but when he was relegated to the bench in favor of teammate Tuukka Rask during last spring’s playoffs, the Bruins’ attempts to unload his salary fell on deaf ears.
Undeterred, Thomas won back the starting job this season and is once again a Vezina finalist after posting the highest save percentage (.938) in the history of the NHL.
Now, Thomas and Roloson are both being mentioned for another trophy, the Conn Smythe, awarded annually to the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But they aren’t the only graybeards thirsting to drink from the cup.
At 43, Bruins right wing Mark Recchi is the oldest active player in the NHL and is attempting to win a third Stanley Cup with his third NHL team. And at age 35, Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis is pushing to win his second championship in Tampa.
Thomas said he sees himself and Roloson in similar situations, both beneficiaries of teams that are just as tight defensively as they are explosive offensively.
“I was listening to (Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher) and he said everybody on his team contributes and that is exactly what is happening with us right now,” Thomas said. “I think that’s the reason we are having success right now.”
Of course, having a couple of geriatric goalies hasn’t hurt, either.