Photo by Chris Gordon
On Monday, the AHL formally inducted four new members into its American Hockey League Hall of Fame: Maurice Podoloff, Larry Wilson, Harry Pidhirny, and Mitch Lamourex. Foster Hewitt Award-winning broadcaster Mike Emrick was the master of ceremonies, while Caps’ head coach Bruce Boudreau served as the keynote speaker.
Among the honorees at the event was former Capitals great Olaf Kolzig. Kolzig, in Hershey to serve as the Eastern Conference’s Honorary Captain at the All-Star Game, was recognized for his six stellar seasons in the AHL. Olie backstopped the Rochester Americans to the Calder Cup Finals in 1993 and won the championship with the Portland Pirates in 1994, where he was also named playoffs MVP.
After the induction ceremony concluded, I caught up with Kolzig downstairs at the media luncheon in the Hershey Theatre. With the rare opportunity to speak to a childhood hero, I asked Kolzig about the Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, the playoffs meltdown last year, and why he reunited with the team after their messy divorce three seasons ago.
Q. What does it mean to you to be named one of the Honorary Captains of the AHL All-Star Game?
A. Well for me personally, when you get asked to do something like that it’s a special honor because people recognize what you did. And I’ve never been a player that boasts about myself or pats myself on the back. When other people recognize that and invite me to an event like this, it’s very special. And to have it in Hershey, where it’s such a historic city– not only obviously with the chocolate but with the franchise itself– it’s probably one of the most prominent franchises in all of hockey.
Q. How did you first find out about the honor?
A. You know what, I was actually invited to last year’s event in Portland. Byron Dafoe and myself were both invited. But I had committed to a Disney cruise with my family, and my kids would have probably disowned me if I would have blown that off. So I was really thankful that [AHL President] Dave [Andrews] called me again and invited me. And It’s almost more special that it is in Hershey. I won a championship in Portland. But when you talk about the AHL, you talk about the Hershey organization.
Q. I wanted to ask you also about the fact that this year we’ve noticed that you’ve been around more Capitals events. What was the catalyst for that?
A. I was asked by [Capitals Team Services’ Manager] Ian Anderson, way back in – I want to say – July or August to attend the Capitals Convention. Whatever differences I had [with the Capitals] wasn’t going to keep me away from the fans. The fans always treated me well there. And I thought: “You know what? Time heals all wounds. Let’s move on.” At the end of the day, you know, I’m going to be known as a Capital, not a Tampa Bay Lightning or a Toronto Maple Leaf. I’m a Washington Capital. Like I said, it’s unfortunate that things happened the way they did, but we’ve moved on. I went to the convention. I saw the team at the Winter Classic. So hopefully I’ll be more and more involved with the alumni stuff.
Q. Was it nice to see guys like Bonzai again [at the Convention]?
A. It was fantastic. Anytime you see your old teammates like Bonzai– I saw Michal Pivonka, I saw Sylvain Cote, I saw all those guys, and I actually had dinner with Joe Reekie that night– it’s great. Those are the guys you played with. Those are the guys you went to the final with. And you have such great memories. It’s just good to sit down and talk about the old days.
Q. The Capitals haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since you backstopped the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. What was the magic with that team?
A. You know what: I don’t know. I just think anytime in the playoffs, everything just has to go right for you. Ask the Capitals last year. They just didn’t have that killer instinct. Game five they could have snuffed out Montreal’s hopes, but they allowed them to get a 2-0 lead, they allowed them to feel good about themselves, and they allowed Halak to get back into it. Next thing you know, they lose in seven. It’s just– it’s a fine line. And for us that year, we were pretty much healthy. All the top teams that finished ahead of us, had all gotten eliminated, and you know what… Ron Wilson being our coach really made a big difference that year. Because in the past, in past years, the team would be up 3 to 1 in a series, and find a way to lose. I remember us being up 3 to 1 against Boston– and nobody wanted to admit it– but everybody in the back of their mind was going, “Well, here we go again.” And Wilsie found a way for us to think differently. And even though we lost game five, we came out and won game six and we thought, “this is our time.” We finally got the monkey off our back. We beat Ottawa. We had a great series against Buffalo– especially the Joe Juneau goal in Overtime– which was probably my most memorable goal as a Capital. It’s unfortunate that we lost four straight to Detroit, because I thought we were a better team than them. But I think deep down we maybe as a team didn’t believe that we could beat them. Just that little bit of doubt I think might have been the difference in the series.
Q. After you spoke, [the AHL] put up a video presentation of you, and they showed a fight between you and Dafoe.
A. The Dance.
Q. Yeah, the dance! Were you aware that that was going to happen?
A. I had a little bit of a feeling. I know they aired it last year when Byron was there in hopes that I was going to be there, too. But I’m glad they allowed me my chance to give my side of the story. So it’s just one of the comedic times of my career and it was just an odd thing to see two goalies go at it, but not really go at it. Two best friends… it’s just a great story of mine.
Q. You were a fan favorite because of your intensity, so that was really great to see.
Q. What can we look forward to from you? We you know you did the Winter Classic stuff for NHL Live a few weeks ago.
A. You know what, I actually really enjoyed those two days doing that. People had always told me that I’d do a good job in television, and I really didn’t know that I would. And they invited me to do it because they didn’t really have anybody to give the Caps perspective. And there were a ton of people from Pittsburgh that were there and so they invited me to do it. And I really thought about it, and I went, “why not?” And I had a blast. So I don’t know if that’s going to be something that will happen more in the future, but I know they were happy with what I did. But right now I’m focused on my junior team. Right now we probably have the best Americans team, that the franchise has ever had right now. And we’re in a battle. We have another month and a half to the season to be there working with the goalies and then we’ll see what happens.
Q. Have you spent most of your time on the West Coast since?
A. Yeah. Pretty much all my time. We moved back up there from Florida, and I’ve been in Tri-cities full-time.