Kolzig smiles during his first press conference in D.C. as a coach (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)
Last Thursday, the Capitals’ new associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig joined Elliot Segal on DC101’s Elliot In The Morning. The former fan-favorite goalie spoke favorably about his new gig and dished out plenty of interesting information in the interview, including Phillipp Grubauer’s potential landing spot next season, Braden Holtby’s tough situation, his thoughts on free-agent signee Tomas Vokoun, and much, much more. Check it out below the jump!
Elliot – Welcome back! It’s good to have you back in town!
Olie Kolzig – It’s great to be back, bud.
Elliot – In terms of the whole thing coming together, what happened with Arturs Irbe? I spent some time with him last year, he seemed like a really nice guy, and then came that story that he just kind of wanted to get away from things and spend time with his family. Is that true or is that just a nice story?
Olie Kolzig – No, that’s about the gist of it. I know Archie just a little bit from playing. I obviously have a lot of respect for him. He’s a really good guy. The situation was that his son was over here with him. Apparently, it was getting to be a little bit too tough — with the son being away from his mother. So he wanted to get closer. You know, back to Latvia. For some people it works. For some people, the family issues are a pretty big deal.
Elliot – So Dave Prior gets the job. As he was putting his staff together, when did you get involved with the whole process?
Olie Kolzig – It was shortly after. Dave came up with the idea of maybe having two people on staff. He’d overlook the Caps, and the scouting part of things. He’d deal with the junior kids that the team has. He just thought it’d be a great way to introduce me back to the league and see if it would be something that I’d like to do. I was approached a couple years ago about possibly being a goalie coach here. At the time, I didn’t feel I was ready. I had just retired. I wanted to spend a little time with the family. So at that point, I just wasn’t willing to commit myself to doing it. So I had two years off. I started to get the itch again. Obviously, I have a great relationship with Dave. We kept in touch. He introduced the scenario and offered me the position. Or felt i’td be a great idea to pitch to the organization. So, George called me and offered the position. And I was ready to take it. Just being here the last four or five days, I’m really starting to enjoy the teaching and coaching part of it.
Elliot – Hey Olie, you mentioned that they had brought it up to you once before. Was that immediately after you announced your retirement did they reach out to you and say that they liked you to come back and work with the goaltenders?
Olie Kolzig – So I retired in what was it? 09? September of 09. Then I was approached in the Summer of 2010. Or was it 09? I don’t know. The time just seems like it’s flying by. It was two or three years ago when I was approached. So it wasn’t too long after I announced retirement.
Elliot – Were those two years awesome though — where you were just sitting around doing nothing?
Olie Kolzig – Yeah. You know what, it wasn’t bad. I talked to a lot of friends and a lot of people that were pretty envious of me of what I was doing. At the same time, you feel sorta unfulfilled. To be retired at 40, it just doesn’t seem right. I mean, I was busy. I was actually busier than when I played. It’s just, I was away from the game that I had been playing my whole life. I got some gratification working with my Junior team last year. And I think that’s what got the wheels turning and me thinking and me coming back to the pro game. I really enjoyed coaching the kids and seeing how they take what you teach them and apply it to a game. And then seeing them have success from it. It’s pretty gratifying. I think that’s what drives coaches and makes them want to do it. Just seeing the people they work with get better. So yeah, it was time for me to get out of retirement. Most guys come back and play. But my body wasn’t going to allow me to do that. So this was the second best thing I could do.
Elliot – Did that thought ever cross your mind?
Olie Kolzig – No, no, no. You know what, the last couple years of my career my body was starting break down. I had a couple of major injuries my last two years. So for me, that was the way of saying it’s time to shut it down. I didn’t want to be Dominik Hasek or Brett Favre and be wishy-washy. Once I made my mind up, that was it.
Elliot – Hey Olie, let me ask you this. You keep saying working with the kids. Does that mean you’ll be splitting time between DC and Hershey?
Olie Kolzig – For the most part this year, I’ll be working with the guys in Hershey and in Charleston, South Carolina. There’s gonna be times when I’ll be up in Washington when Dave’s out scouting or when he can’t make it into town. For me it’s kind of a slow progression and slowly getting me into the routine of being a coach, what to look for, how to work with the goalies. So it’s something that’s perfect for me. I don’t come in here blind and all of a sudden there’s this overwhelming pressure to work with the NHL team. You know, it’s like some golfers. They are great golfers but they don’t know how to teach the golf swing. And then there’s guys that didn’t make it in golf, but they know how to teach someone how to swing flawlessly. I’m trying to make that transition from player to teacher. This is just a great way to slowly get into it.
Elliot – Down in Hershey, the big goaltending star there is obviously Braden Holtby. Have you spent much time talking with him? The reason I ask is because in a 24 hour period — once Varly was dealt to Colorado – I read somewhere where George McPhee had come out and said, “You know what, we’re fine with that. The job is going to be Neuvirth and Holtby. And they’ll compete. We’re very comfortable with two young goalies.” Then 24, 48 hours later, whatever it was, he signs Vokoun. It was a great signing, I have no problem with that. But then Holtby goes from having a shot of splitting of time or winning the starting job outright, to probably spending the bulk of the season in Hershey. Is he all right with that mentally?
Olie Kolzig – I haven’t talked to him. The only time I’ve ever talked to Braden was at the AHL All-Star game. You know what, as a young guy that’s just the world of the NHL. I don’t think the plan was to have a guy like Tomas Vokoun here. But you know, on the second day of free agency when no body had signed him and there really wasn’t any teams out there that needed a goaltender – it was just too good of an opportunity and for the amount of money they paid for him, to pass up. Here you got a veteran guy, who I think is one of the top goalies in the NHL.
Elliot – He’s really, really good. He’s just been stuck playing for a crap team.
Olie Kolzig – Exactly. And when the pressure’s on, at the international stage for the Czech Republic, he’s always shined. This guy can play under pressure. And like I said, he’s a veteran. To me, I think it’s just a great tandem to have a veteran and a young guy. And Michal Neuvirth – obviously, with what he did last year – is an up-and-coming star. Then you have a guy like Braden Holtby who is going to be a star in his own right. But at the same time, Michal Neuvirth went through the rigors of the East Coast league and the American league and he had a lot of success at the American league. And was able to translate at the NHL. Now Braden Holtby only had one year last year. Yeah, it stinks. Because you see one of the three studs traded to Colorado and this guy has the ability to step in and play in the NHL this year. In his eyes, it might look like a setback. At that age, you need to play and there’s still development. It’s a process. It’s not a given that you should be given a position. You need to continually get better as a goaltender. So I look at this as a positive for him. You play a lot of hockey and he’s gonna get an opportunity this year. With the rigor of the NHL, there’s always injury. He”ll get a shot again. If he stays patient, he’s good enough. Eventually he’ll play. He’s just gotta bide his time.
Elliot – There are some people who were saying that Holtby’s the best of the three.
Olie Kolzig – It’s hard to say. Yeah, he has that skill where he handles the puck and he has a great, competitive demeanor. Last year, he got called up early and struggled a little bit. Then, he came up later and had success. He’s gotta have that consistency when he’s up there.
I know, coming back to the American league after having a successful stint in the NHL is a little bit of a downer. Again though, it’s a process. You’ve gotta develop consistency – and I’m not saying that he doesn’t have that – but It’s just something to continue to work on. You’re going to have highs and lows. It’s how you deal with it. The bottom line is to just play hockey. Sometimes you can’t control what management or the coaches do. You just control what you can do and let them make a decision.
Elliot – It must be weird to hear yourself talk like that. As a player, at times, you were emotional and a hot head.
Olie Kolzig – It was probably what kept me from playing so long! As a player, you’re totally different. You’re in the heat of the moment.. In all honesty, having that emotion that I had, yeah it might have hurt me early on in my career, but I think it’s what kept me going for so long. I’ve always had passion when I played the game. I wore my emotions on my sleeve. Like I said – sometimes that got me in trouble. I learned throughout my career to channel it a different way. By playing so long and by having Dave as a goalie coach so long, you’re able to understand what they’re saying. Now I’m on the other side of the fence, I can relate those issues to the younger guys. Tell them about the experiences I went through and how I was able to channel my emotions in the right way to have more success on the ice. But it does sound weird. Now all of the sudden I’m a philosopher instead of a goalie.
Elliot – I was reading about prospect camp which is going on right now. Isn’t there a German kid that’s in the system that’s supposed to be doing well right now?
Olie Kolzig – Phillipp Grubauer. Most likely he’ll end up in South Carolina and that’s strictly because of the numbers. I think the kid can play in the American League level. It’s only been three or four days — the kid hasn’t played for about five months because of mononucleosis so he was out for a while — but this kid looks to be really good.
Elliot – Would you say he’s the second best goalie of German descent?
Olie Kolzig – I’d be comfortable with saying that.
Elliot – Is the family moving back [to DC]?
Olie Kolzig – No, we’re actually going to move to Tampa. We’re going to be based out of Tampa. With me going to South Carolina and having lived there for two years, the kids were at a great school there and had a ton of friends, it just makes for an easy commute.
Elliot – The kids are doing well, I assume.
Olie Kolzig – Yeah. The kids are doing really well. They’re all excited about the move and maybe having daddy not around quite as much.
Elliot – You’re going to have a place at DC and in Hershey? Dude, the parties at Kolzig’s are going to be awesome!
Olie Kolzig – Well, the place in Hershey might be the Hershey Lodge Hotel.
Elliot – Oh, awesome. That’ll be be great.
Olie Kolzig – Yeah. I’ll bring the chocolates!
Elliot – I hear you were back a couple of weeks ago. We talked to Halpern once he re-signed and I guess you were at his wedding. How awesome is it that he’s back?
Olie Kolzig – It’s fantastic. I actually texted him because I think he was on his honeymoon when he actually signed the contract. I texted him, “Congratulations. They’re putting the band back together.” I think it’s a great fit. I think the guy can still play. Great centerman. Just a great guy in the lockeroom. Such a smart hockey guy. Obviously, it makes sense with the DC-born kid coming back. I think it’s fantastic for the team.
Elliot – I loved our moves during the off-season…
Olie Kolzig – I think they addressed some things and I think they improved the leadership in the dressing room. You know, the Caps go as Ovie, Semin, Backstrom and Green go. So if they can bounce back and play to their true form, this team should be the favorite going into the regular season again.
Elliot – Are you going to the convention again or as a coach are you staying away?
Olie Kolzig – Nope. I’ll be there!!
Elliot – You’ll be up there in one of the forums called “Coaches Clinic.” That’ll be what you’re doing now. The players get to be mad at you now. Aw man, I love everything about this transition.
Olie Kolzig – I wasn’t told about that. I may have to reconsider then!
Elliot – It’s great to have you back, my friend.
Olie Kolzig – I’m happy to be back.
Audio of Interview: