At 41, he looks in good enough shape to don the pads and get between the pipes. He’s forgiven the organization to which he gave 17 peerless seasons for phasing him out three years ago. And now, Olie Kolzig is back where he belongs: with the Washington Capitals.
Easily the most dominant goalie in Caps history, Kolzig met the media this morning in his new role: associate goalie coach. Few men in this role ever have to field questions from the folks with tape recorders and microphones, but even fewer have won 303 NHL games (one of just 25 goalies to do so) and a Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie (in 2000). All but two of Kolzig’s 303 victories came in a Washington uniform.
“When I was playing I was so focused on the game, I didn’t give post-career any thought,” Kolzig said after the first practice of the Caps’ developmental camp at Kettler IcePlex. “That’s why I took two years off just to be with family and reintroduce myself to my kids and my wife. But … I started to get the itch. I got a little bit of satisfaction working with the kids at Tri-Cities last year. It (brought) back all those feelings. … I played this game since I was four years old. I was a professional for 18 years. You do what you know best. That’s the position of goaltender. My body’s not strong enough to play anymore so the second-best thing is to work with the young kids and teach what you know.”
Caps general manager George McPhee, who joined coach Bruce Boudreau in making the decision to bench and then not re-sign Kolzig in 2008, is glad he’s back and sees him as a probable successor whenever Dave Prior, the goalie coach for 15 years, retires in the near future.
“(Olie) was a terrific leader as a player, had a lot of character and charisma,” McPhee said. “He certainly brings intelligence (to the job). It’s great to have him back. He looks great in Caps colors. I think he’ll be really helpful for our organization.”
Kolzig was hired a month ago when the Caps had three goalies 23 and younger. In the interim, they acquired Tomas Vokoun, a near-contemporary at 35. That should help ease Kolzig’s transition into coaching as will the continuing presence of his mentor, Prior.
“It’s going to be a learning experience,” Kolzig said. “I want to be there for the kids, I want them to know that they can trust me. There’s not many coaches that have played (goalie in the NHL). Sometimes coaches don’t understand what goalies are going through. So they need somebody to vent to and have somebody who knows what (they’re going) through and be able to get them out of their rut quicker.”
And after two years away from the bright lights, Kolzig is back where he belongs.
“I can’t say I wouldn’t have gone to any other franchise (but) I’m just happy it was this one,” said Kolzig, who played more minutes for the Caps than anyone. “It’s well-documented what happened a few years ago, but time heals all wounds. I’m glad that I’m back. I’m excited. I can’t wait for training camp.”
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.