Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Olie The Goalie Meant To Me

Goaltenders are a funny bunch. Ask any rational person to stand in front of a screaming 100 mile per hour slap shot and they will tell you how crazy you are. But then expect to be hit by the screamer line drive shot to keep it from going into the net is somewhere between lunacy and committed-in-asylum crazy. It takes a special personality to do it. Olaf Kolzig was definitely special.

Kolzig wasn't a household name in the league when he was drafted in 1989 by the Washington Capitals. He played only two games in the NHL that year, he lost both games and was a disappointing .810 save percentage and had a 6.oo goal against average. He was sent to the minors for some seasoning. He was knocked around in the lesser leagues for a few years, even spending time in the ECHL (remind you of Micheal Neuvirth?).

Olie would ping pong from the Portland Pirates to the Washington Capitals from '92 to '96 before he finally stuck in the NHL. Playing backup for Jim Carey, a young goalie that seemed to leaped frog over Kolzig for the number one spot. Carey would carry the team until his numbers slipped in the '96-'97 season.

Biding his time, in comes Olie the goalie. Kolzig would used his size to his advantage, challenging shooters on the first shot, making the save and allowing his speedy defensemen like Calle Johansson and Sergei Gonchar pick put the rebounds. The only thing that hampered Kolzig was his temper. Stick breaking rages were common in practices and even between periods in the locker room. But while some would call it a temper, others saw it as passion. And did Kolzig ever have passion.

That passion would carry them through to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. From that point on Kolzig would endear himself to Washington, and as Capital fans, we acknowledged him as our number one guy in net. No matter how bad things got, with Olie in the net, things were going to be okay. It would be a decade before anyone could knock him from the number one spot. Partly because of some failed prospects behind him, partly because he was that good. Olie and the Caps would fall to the Red Wings that year four games to none in the Finals, but Kolzig solidified himself as an elite goaltender in the NHL.

It wasn't long before the Caps desperately wanted to taste the Finals agian and they made the mistake of bringing in free agent after free agent. Jaromir Jagr was one of those big signings that had the Caps' fans chomping at the bit for another run in the playoffs. But that would end in disaster. When the Jagr experiment failed, the Capitals vowed to rebuild. That meant a long time commitment to developing players and a lot of good talent would be lost. But the Caps could never get rid of Olie. What he meant to this city, for hockey here, and to the fans, it would take something drastic to drag our goaltender from guarding the net.

Not only have fans gotten used to seeing Kolzig between the pipes, we overlooked his bad temper. We overlooked when he started missing the second and third saves that he used to make. His name and past record was good enough for us.

As a teenager, I even made a sign in his honor that read "Go-Olie!" Not only did it get me some jumbotron action (thank you ladies for the nice compliments following the game), it also got a rise from the crowd. Olaf Kolzig will always be a Capital, there will never be another quite like him. When the reality came that maybe Kolzig just wasn't up to the challenge any more, our hearts all just ached a little. We wanted him to succeed, because his success was our success too.

Olaf Kolzig will hang up the skates this season, calling it a career after 14 years guarding a 6 foot by 4 foot net from a black rubber puck. His amazing play in '98 when he brought us so close to the Stanley Cup are now apart of Capital legend and lore. While he didn't get to raise the Cup, Kolzig was always a champion to us.

Caps Nots:
  • Rusty no more. The Capitals pulled a 6 spot on the visiting Chicago Blackhawks beating them at the phone booth 6-2. Mike Knuble finally looked comfortable on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and the pair accounted for 2 goals each. You can get a recap and the scoresheet from
  • Expect more cuts to come, but the Caps have already bid a farewell to a good number of players including John Carlson and Francois Bouchard. All will be in the Hershey Bears training camp in the coming days. You can catch up with everyone on
  • The Caps will do a home and home preseason tilt with the New York Rangers. Donald Brashear should be in at least one of the two games. We are now just under a week away from the start of the regular season.

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