ST. PAUL (AP) -- Before the season started, Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire knew what he had in goaltender Manny Fernandez. Dwayne Roloson was another story.
Fernandez went 19-17-4 with a .920 save percentage -- sixth in the NHL -- in the Wild's inaugural season, earning him an overwhelming win in his arbitration case with the team, a two-year contract worth more than $3 million and status as Minnesota's unquestioned starter coming into its second season.
Roloson, though, was an unknown. The 32-year-old spent last season in minors and has never won more than 11 games in an NHL season, prompting a few double-takes from fans who found out that last year's backup, Jamie McLennan, was being sent to the Wild's AHL affiliate in Houston to start the year.
But with Fernandez struggling through October and most of November, the decision to stay with Roloson has paid off. He's 7-6-1 with a 2.36 goals against average.
"I'm sure I've surprised a lot of people who probably underestimated how much hard work and some of the different training I did," Roloson said. "I did a lot of work during the last two years to improve my game."
Count Lemaire among those who didn't see Roloson's surprising season coming.
"I gotta say he's been better than we thought he would be," Lemaire said. "He's been excellent. We thought he would do a certain job for us, but as good as he's been doing? It's pretty impressive."
Fernandez has bounced back with two strong starts, allowing just one goal in those games. But before that, he went through a dreadful six-game stretch in which he allowed 26 goals -- five or more in three of those.
"I haven't slept much the past few weeks," Fernandez said. "I've just been playing games in my head, thinking, 'What's happening, what's wrong?"'
His teammates weren't worried. "We've had confidence in Manny all along," said center Wes Walz. "He was struggling, but we were struggling. Everyone said he was struggling, but they were getting three or four scoring chances every time. You can't expect him to make three or four saves in a row."
"Besides his work on the ice, you should see all the things he has been doing off the ice. I've seen him in the back room doing pull-ups, doing extra stretching, things I've never seen Manny Fernandez do before. That's what I love -- a guy who is professional enough to put in the extra work it takes to be successful."
Roloson has been playing less with Fernandez's resurgence, but he's not concerned. The competition is healthy.
"That's part of our job," Roloson said. "Unfortunately we battle against each other but we're a team. We try and stick together as best we can. But I try not to say too much."
Not much has been said about Roloson's five-year NHL career, all of which has been spent as a reserve. His best season came in 1997-1998, when he went 11-16-8 for Calgary behind Trevor Kidd. In Buffalo, he backed up Dominik Hasek.
"Hopefully I can take advantage when I get a chance to play," he said. "After my experiences, I learned it's a strange game -- you never know what's going to happen."
Neither does Lemaire, who was asked recently how he decides which goalie to play each night.
"Depends on how I get up in the morning," he said, shrugging his shoulders and smiling.
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