Photo credit: Chris Gordon
Over the summer, Swedish airbrush artist Dave Gunnarsson released photos of the new goalie mask he painted for Michal Neuvirth. It was a thing of beauty and something all Capitals fans could appreciate.
One side of the mask features images of Neuvirth’s hometown along with a portrait image of Czech goaltending great Jiří Holeček. On the other side there’s an action shot of Olie Kolzig, the franchise’s leader in wins, juxtaposed with the old Capitals dome logo and stars.
The gesture was not lost on Kolzig, now an associate goaltending coach for the Capitals and technically one of Neuvirth’s coaches.
Neuvirth shows off the mask to Mike Vogel.
During a trip to Reading, Pennsylvania in December, Philipp Grubauer — the Royals starting goaltender at the time — showed Kolzig photos of Neuvirth’s new bucket. “When I first saw the mask I thought it was pretty cool,” Kolzig told me over the phone on Sunday. “But then I realized ‘Wow, I’m getting old!’ You’ve got younger players putting former players on their masks. It’s a sign you’re really getting up there in age.”
Kolzig, who will celebrate his 43rd birthday in April, is five years removed from a career in which he won the Vezina Trophy, played in two all-star games, and broke almost all of Washington’s goalie records. “I wanted a goaltending legend from the Caps,” Neuvirth said. “So I had to pick Olie.”
“I think it was a classy thing that Michal did,” Kolzig told me. “Obviously, I was with the organization for so many years. It really was a nice thing for him to do.”
Mask design has grown as an art-form in recent years. In the early days, hall of fame goaltender Jacques Plante wore a simple, solid-grey fiberglass mask. Over time, paint was added into the formula, and the level of detail has since become extraordinary. Maybe too much for Kolzig’s tastes.
“It’s almost gotten to a point where masks have become a little too detailed for television coverage,” Kolzig said. “They’re really tough to pick up unless you see them up close. Back in the day myself, Curtis Joseph, Jocelyn Thibault with that Indian head dress on his mask, Hasek’s– they were great because they had a lot of color and personality, but they weren’t so detailed that you couldn’t see them from the stands.”
Kolzig is excited about the upcoming lockout-shortened season and the Capitals’ goaltending duo. While head coach Adam Oates has hinted at Braden Holtby starting opening night, Kolzig believes Neuvirth will still play a large part of the schedule.
“I’m a big Michal Neuvirth fan,” Kolzig said. “I really think he’s a talented kid and I think it’s fantastic that we have two guys with that ability especially this season where there’s such a premium on winning every night. You have two guys that can share the load — not only with their bodies but with a fresh mind too.”
Still, the question nags: will painting Olie on his mask get Neuvy any extra starts this season? “I hope that’s not why he did it,” Kolzig deadpanned. “If that’s the case, he should have put Dave Prior on there.”
Photos by Chris Gordon