“Time heals all wounds.” – Olie Kolzig (Photo credit: Joe Lavelle)
Olie Kolzig is back! Three years after the fan favorite goalie lost his starting role to Cristobal Huet and left on bad terms the club with which he had spent his entire NHL career, Kolzig has rejoined the Capitals as associate goaltender coach. In his new role, Kolzig will assist Dave Prior, who regains the title of goaltender coach he gave up in 2009 to spend more time with his family. Arturs Irbe took over for Prior but decided not to return for the 2011-12 season, citing reasons similar to Prior’s when he left his coaching job.
“I’m ecstatic to finally come back basically to the place I call home — playing there for so long,” Kolzig told reporters on a conference call. “Being away for two years, I started to get the itch again to get involved again with hockey. … When Dave Prior called me a few weeks back and pitched the idea of coming back and being an associate goaltending coach and working with him, I thought there’s probably not a better person that I want to work with and an organization that I want to be back together with.”
And Kolzig wasn’t the only one who found it a perfect match.
“Finding someone else to bring in to work with Dave, our first choice was Olie, the first one who came to mind,” said Caps General Manager George McPhee. “We actually talked to him about it a few years ago and he wasn’t ready at that time, but he seems to be ready now and excited about it and probably a little bit nervous too.”
As for Prior, he will handle the main duties of coaching Washington’s NHL goalie corps, which currently consist of two players he recommended drafting in 2006 — Semyon Varlamov (24th overall) and Michal Neuvirth (34th overall). Kolzig will fill a part-time support role as well as being a mentor to the club’s minor league netminders, similar to what he has done the past few years with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, a team he co-owns. Kolzig said that the arrangement enable will allows him to test the waters of coaching, but still be able to make a difference.
“I really didn’t know what I was going to do once hockey was over,” he said. “But spending the last year and a bit with my junior team and working with the kids and then seeing results and seeing them actually apply what you’re teaching them in a game and being successful really was fulfilling. I started to think about it a little more and was wondering, ‘Maybe I should give it a shot at the NHL level?’”
There will, Kolzig said, be ample talent to mold with Varlamov, Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, who are all under the age of 23. “I don’t think there is an organization in the league that has such depth at such a young age, which wasn’t always the case with the Caps,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun working with all three of them.”
In additional to Washington’s netminders, Olie the Goalie had nothing but praise for Prior — his old coach — and his methods, even though Prior was key to the Capitals’ acquisition of Huet in 2008, which played a major part in Kolzig’s departure.
“Dave is probably the biggest reason why I enjoyed the success I had in the NHL,” the 41 year-old said. “Before he came onboard in ’97, I was kind of floundering between call-ups and playing in the minors and not really having any sort of consistent game. Dave came in and it wasn’t so much of a technical adjustment as it was a mental one. And Dave just has the demeanor that just seemed to work.”
But following in the footsteps of his mentor and becoming a coach will require a bit of a transition. “Once I get in there I got to remind myself I’m a coach now, not a player, and maybe back off of some of the things I would have said as a player,” Kolzig said.
Kolzig was a steady bright spot for Washington from the mid-90s to the late-2000s. He led the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998, won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie in 2000 and spent countless hours over the years interacting with and signing autographs for supporters, creating a new generation of fans by doing things as simple as remembering someone’s name. Kolzig also did significant charity work, founding two organizations to raise money for Autism research after his son, Carson, was diagnosed with the disorder. Those good deeds earned him the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy for humanitarian work in 2006 and a soft spot in the hearts of the Caps faithful.
After his fallout with Capitals following the 2007-08 season, Kolzig signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Serving as the backup, he saw just eight games with the team before suffering a season-ending arm injury. At the 2009 trade deadline, Kolzig was dealt to the Maple Leafs, but never played a game for Toronto before calling it a career.
“Time heals all wounds,” said Kolzig. “The more I was removed from a few years ago and being retired and getting a better prospective on things and being the owner of a hockey team myself… you realize it’s a business. Things were handled in a business fashion, and since then I came to Caps Convention last year, spent some time with George [McPhee] and with Ted [Leonsis]. No ill will towards each other, certainly not on my part and not on their part, not that there ever was. So we just moved on.”
Now that he has moved on, Kolzig can begin contemplating how to address Caps’ biggest problem of all: the lack of playoff success. “They just have to find whatever it is, bring in a few news players, I don’t know,” he said. “They’ve got too much talent not to go further than they have.”