Brian Roloff is one of just 22 Western New Yorkers blessed with the ability to play Division I college hockey. That alone is a reason for Roloff to feel good about himself, but the St. Francis High School graduate has plenty of other reasons for beaming with pride these days.
The West Seneca native is healthy and experiencing a breakout season in his junior year with seventh-ranked Vermont. He's helped key a turnaround for the Catamounts, who stand in third place in the powerful Hockey East conference. Vermont is 14-6-4 overall, 9-5-3 in Hockey East, a year after it was barely above .500 in the regular season before making a surprising run to the conference's championship game.
And if those aren't enough reasons for walking tall, Roloff has one more cause for feeling good. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder recently made ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 plays.
Roloff earned his television time Jan. 9 for scoring the game-tying goal with one second left during Vermont's 3-3 tie with defending national champion Boston College, the same team that ended the Catamounts' 2007-08 season with a 4-0 blanking in the Hockey East final.
"I was kind of shocked, kind of thrilled," said Roloff, a center who plays on a line with 6-5 Brayden Irwin and 6-3 Viktor Stalberg."I couldn't believe I was onSportsCenter."
Regardless of where Roloff's career takes him, he has a highlight that no one will ever be able to take from him. SportsCenter focuses on football and basketball in the fall and winter, which is how local athletes such as Naaman Roosevelt (St. Joe's) and James Starks (Niagara Falls) of UB and Jonny Flynn (Niagara Falls) of Syracuse made the network's Top 10 plays. Hockey doesn't get much coverage, especially the college game outside of tournament time. So it's not often a local hockey player gets his name attached to ESPN anchor John Buccigross' signature call "twisted wrister."
So being play No. 9 in the highlight package in January is quite the big deal.
"It was very special not just being a Western New Yorker making SportsCenter but having college hockey make SportsCenter which doesn't get that much recognition," he said. "I thought [that] was cool."
"Obviously every time you get recognition on a media outlet like SportsCenter it's special," Catamounts coach Kevin Sneddon said. "First and foremost any exposure we have for college hockey is great. . . . For us selfishly you want to get your [college] name out there, you want your recruits to see that so all of that positive publicity helps."
In case anyone missed the highlight that aired Jan. 9, here's a quick recap of the goal that is also posted on YouTube (search for "Brian Roloff tying goal"):
With four seconds left and Vermont on a power play that turned into a six-on-four advantage when it put its goalie on the bench, Dean Strong won a faceoff at the left circle in the BC zone and passed cleanly to Peter Lenes, but the puck was in Lenes' skates. Lenes quickly steered the puck to a wide-open Roloff at the right circle. Roloff potted a wicked wrist shot to beat the goalie and the clock.
The play almost went according to plan, except Lenes was supposed to shoot, something he couldn't do because the puck didn't land right on his stick for the quick shot.
"It was one of those things as a coach where you can put your players in certain positions, but . . . great players find a way to make plays," Sneddon said. "[Boston College] had to make some mistakes and we had to make a perfect play. I don't know if we can re-create that again but we'll certainly take that one."
Hours after that goal, Roloff received word from friends on campus that they had seen his goal on SportsCenter. He also received text messages from his friends back home. While his parents usually watch his games on the Internet, the feed froze just before Roloff scored, so his folks didn't see the goal until watching it on ESPN. Roloff stayed awake and saw himself on television toward the end of the 1 a.m. SportsCenter.
The highlight-reel goal is an example of the turnaround year the former Buffalo Regal is having.
Roloff missed 10 of the Cats' first 12 games during his sophomore season because of a groin strain suffered while lifting weights in a preseason workout. He returned to play in 29 games, contributing to Vermont's 13-6-1 closing run -- but it took him awhile to stop thinking about the injury and to get up to game speed.
This season, he's emerged as the Catamounts' most consistent forward, offensively and defensively. Roloff ranks tied for third in points (18). He has six goals, including three on the power play, one game-winning tally and one SportsCenter highlight after entering the season with just seven goals and 23 points in 67 games.
While being injury-free has been a key in Roloff's success, being a year older and a year stronger have also played a role in his breakout year, according to Sneddon. He's also become one of the team's better faceoff men, having won 53 percent of his draws.
"He's got a great sense of confidence," Sneddon said. "He's doing things so well offensively and defensively. I think [his success] is a combination of all of those factors."
"Coming into the season, I know my class -- there are 10 of us now . . . we're older and stronger," Roloff said. "We knew this should be our year and we should make an impact."