Thursday, September 24, 2009

10 Reasons (and more) to love Olaf Kolzig

With all the hype surrounding the Washington Capitals net these days, it's easy for some fans stuck in the here-and-now to lose sight of what Olaf Kolzig meant to the Washington Capitals. Godzilla retired yesterday, closing the book on a 17-year career. All but one of those seasons was spent as a member of the Capitals.

(Getty Images, via The Hockey News)

Through times flush and lean, Olie was there between the pipes. There was the time he stopped 62 Pittsburgh Penguins shots one morning in 1996, before he was pierced in the fourth overtime by Peter Nedved. There was also the time he backstopped the Capitals on their thrilling 1998 cup run that transformed the big German from bearded unknown to cult hero in the span of a few weeks.

From Bondra and Oates, to Jagr and Lang, to Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and Green, Olie was there.

From Schoenfeld to Wilson, from Cassidy to Hanlon and finally to Boudreau, Olie was there.

From Hunter to Oates, to Konowalchuck and Witt, to Halpern and to Clark, six different Capitals wore the 'C' during Kolzig's tenure, but there was rarely any doubt about who the team's true captain was. Olie was a leader, prone to wearing his heart on his goal stick, just as likely to set the the emotional pitch for the locker room by smashing a twig over the crossbar as he was by making a clutch save.

Kolzig won 301 games as a member of the Capitals organization. Along the way, there were some memorable moments that, by virtue of the fact that Olie never won a Stanley Cup, won't end up being featured on an NHL Network retrospective.

We'd like to take the opportunity to look back at 10 of the moments that defined Olie Kolzig's career with the Capitals.

10. Olie the Romantic

Before Alex Ovechkin rode a zamboni down Broadway, Olie the Goalie had dinner with his "wife." This advertising campaign, which premiered in the early aughts, reflected a new marketing strategy for the Capitals, led by new-media visionary Ted Leonsis. It emphasized the personalities of the players, including at least one of whom spent most of his time here behind a Godzilla facemask. Kolzig -- an affable guy off-ice who cleans up well -- was the most recognizable member of the Caps until he passed the torch to No. 8. How's that working out so far?

9. Kolzig Keeps it Real

Late in the 2006-07 season, things were pretty grim for the Capitals. On their way to a 28-40-14 record under Glen Hanlon, getting smoked by a team like Atlanta, at home, was becoming a regular occurrence. But towards the end of one such encounter, Kolzig reminded all of us what we grew to love most about him: he was a fighter. He was resilient. And most of all, he was fiery. He didn't appreciate Jim Slater running him in the crease, and he let him know it.

8. 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Ottawa
(Watch from 1:24)

Before Semyon Varlamov recorded two shutouts against the New York Rangers last spring, no Capitals netminder in recent history had ever dominated a post-season opponent like Olaf Kolzig did the Ottawa Senators in 1998. He allowed seven goals in five games; after the Senators clawed their way back into the series with a 4-3 Game 3 victory, Kolzig posted shutouts in Game 4 and the deciding Game 5. Some of the saves he made along the way weren't too shabby, either.

7. Marathon Shootout Win vs. Edmonton

On January 17, 2008, the Edmonton Oilers came to Verizon Center. After skating to a 4-4 tie through regulation and overtime, the two teams engaged in a shootout for the ages. Dwayne Roloson for the Oilers vs. Olaf Kolzig. For those who say the shootout is meaningless, don't tell that to Kolzig. With questions beginning to surface about Kolzig's game, No. 37 stopped all 11 Oilers shooters before Matt Bradley put Washington ahead.

6. Olie Wins the Vezina

In the 1999-00 season, Kolzig played in 73 games, ever the workhorse that he was. In those games, he went 41-20-11 with a 2.24 GAA, a .917 save percentage, and five shutouts. For his efforts, he was named the league's top goalie, the second Capital to earn that distinction after Jim Carey won in 1995-96.

"Coming into the year, it was going to be a major chore just to make the playoffs; I wasn't too concerned about the Vezina Trophy," Kolzig told Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post. "That's what a lot of teamwork will do and a lot of pride. I was fortunate to play behind the guys I play behind."

5. Olie vs. Byron Dafoe

Just before Thanksgiving 1998, the Capitals and Boston Bruins -- playoff rivals from the year before -- squared off in a game that would result in 12 ejections and 259 penalty minutes. In the midst of this epic fracas, Bruins goalie Byron Dafoe (himself a former Cap) grabbed Caps captain Dale Hunter. From 200 feet away, Kolzig saw this: no effing way, he must have thought to himself. Before long, the two goaltenders were throwing haymakers. Did I mention that Dafoe had months earlier been the Best Man at Kolzig's wedding? The good news is, it didn't affect their long-term relationship. See below.

4. Olie’s All-Stars

For all the impact Kolzig made on the ice in Washington, his quality as a human being is perhaps his greatest legacy. The Olie's All-Stars program was a staple at the MCI/Verizon Center for nearly a decade. But after Kolzig's son, Carson, was discovered to have autism, the goaltender founded Athletes Against Autism, along with Byron Dafoe and Scott Mellanby, to help raise money to fight the disorder. We're not going to try to get all sentimental about it, just watch this...

...and then go here. Kolzig was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his humanitarian efforts in 2006. If you asked Kolzig what he's more grateful for in his playing career -- the 303 wins or the King Clancy -- it's tough to say which he'd pick.

3. Diving glove save vs. Pittsburgh

Unless you were at MCI Center on March 4, 2001, or watching on ESPN2 that night, you're going to have to trust us on this one. It was during the final seconds of that game, with the Capitals ahead 4-3 thanks to two third-period goals by Richard Zednik, that Kolzig made one of the most brilliant saves of his career against the Penguins. When it looked as though the Pens were about to tie the game, Kolzig rebuffed them.

Here's how Jason La Canfora described it in the Washington Post:

Kolzig took over from there, saving the game with 17 seconds to play, with Penguins center Jan Hrdina staring at an empty net. Kolzig was manning the far post, his back to the shooter. But the goalie turned, dived and flung his glove at Hridna's shot. Hrdina raised his arms in jubilation and the goal light burned behind Washington's net -- "I thought it was in," Hrdina said -- but the puck had never crossed the line, the victim of an unfathomable save.

"You never think a guy can make a save like that," said Penguins winger Kevin Stevens, who also celebrated the near-goal.

"It was pure desperation, honestly," Kolzig said. "Just throw a body part out there and hope it hits you. I do that a number of times in practice and it doesn't pan out. If he shoots it along the ice it's in the net; maybe it's a reversal of fortune for us."

2. Olie's Swansong

With Cristobal Huet already sharing Kolzig's net, the goaltender's days in Washington were nearing an end. Thanks to a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames on March 12, 2008, Kolzig earned his 300th win in Capital red. It was Kolzig's penultimate victory in a Capitals sweater, and his final milestone achievement. By listening to Kolzig's postgame valedictory with Al Koken, he seemed to know it.

1. Olie Outduels the Dominator
(Most critical save in Capitals history occurs at the 6-minute mark)

After dispatching the Bruins and Senators, the Capitals were met with Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals. Not only was Buffalo considered a team on the rise, but their all-world goaltender, Dominik Hasek, had won Olympic gold for the Czech Republic in Nagano earlier that year. Suffice it to say, Kolzig was the second-best goalie in this matchup. But he didn't play like it. Kolzig was a battler throughout the hard-fought series. His performance was typified by a number of breathtaking stops, none more critical than the save he made in the opening minutes of overtime. Check out the six-minute mark of the video: if Kolzig's toe doesn't get back to cover the far post, that puck goes in the net, the Sabres tie the series at 3, and the series heads to Washington for Game 7. Luckily, the 6-foot-4 Kolzig has big feet to match his lightning reflexes, and, moments later, Joe Juneau potted the winner.


The Capitals would go on to be swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals. It was the closest Kolzig would ever come to winning Lord Stanley. Now, the franchise whose record books are filled with Kolzig's name is poised for greatness, and while he's no longer on the ice, he's should remain in the consciousness of Caps Nation. Someday, his No. 37 will rightly hang above the Verizon Center ice. It would be nice if he was there to help raise it, along with a Stanley Cup banner, when that day arrives.


  1. 37 will be hanging from the rafters some day...hopefully after the Stanley Cup banner.

  2. In my fantasy world, they'll invite Olie to help raise the Stanley Cup banner AND the No. 37 on the same October 2010.

  3. Number 10 is my favorite, with number 5 a close second. Great, great post.


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