- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Until the first game of the 1997-98 season, when his world suddenly turned upside-down, goaltender Olie Kolzig had plenty of opportunity to watch others in his profession. In fact, he usually had the best seat in the house right at the end of the Washington Capitals' bench.
He did not waste his time. He watched and he learned, silently cataloguing every little thing on and off the ice in case his chance ever came. And in those days, that was no sure thing.
Because of the price Kolzig paid nearly 10 seasons of bus rides through the minors and several seasons as a backup his comments have special meaning. They usually consist of more than the stock sound bite.
"I'm just so appreciative of where I'm at right now," he said after a midsummer workout with his teammates. "I've played for years in the minors, long bus rides, played backup for two or three years, and I cherish every game I play in. I don't take it for granted. You never know when your last game is going to be."
Three years ago Kolzig's campaign started as usual, watching somebody else open the season in goal. Just 2:29 into the season, in the first period against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, Bill Ranford was injured. He finished the period, but Kolzig was in net for the start of the second. Since, his life has never been the same.
Kolzig, 30, is the reigning winner of the Vezina Trophy, the award presented every season to the goalie judged best in the business by the league's general managers. He had little warning the trophy was coming; he was still in shock after being named a first-team NHL All-Star when the Vezina arrived.
He sits atop his profession today, but little has changed. In late August he was already in midseason form, screaming at teammates who had the nerve to score on him during shinny games. He drives the same pickup truck, trades good-natured insults with the same intensity and follows most of his old habits.
"It was actually a quiet summer," he said. "I didn't know what to expect after [winning the Vezina]. I came back, did a lot of interviews and then it really quieted down. I don't know if it's going to pick up now that the season's started or what. I was expecting it to be a little busier."
Even winning the Vezina did not wipe away the pain and embarrassment of a five-game loss to Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs. Kolzig is not a good loser, and it took more than a month for his fury to simmer.
"I was disappointed," he admits, perhaps understating his feelings. "Just watching the finals and seeing New Jersey win and realizing how much success we had against Jersey last year and thinking, 'Hey, we could be standing right there holding the Cup.' I still believe we played the wrong team. There's not much difference … ah, heck, I'm not going to dwell on it. [We're just going to] go out this year and try to put ourselves in a position again to be more successful."
That basically is what he has done for the past three seasons. He had only 14 career regular season wins the day he skated out to replace Ranford; he now has 114. Of those 193 decisions since that October 1997 night, only 69 have been losses.
He took the Caps to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998 and imploded the following season. There was incredible self-imposed pressure. Working out the details of a new contract caused major distractions. He also felt he had to post a shutout every night.
"I learned my lesson," he said. "And for me it's always about learning your lesson. Two years ago I learned from putting too much pressure on myself. Last year I went out with a different attitude, and it worked. This year it's going to be the same thing.
"I'm not going into the season trying to defend my Vezina. That's not what it's about. It's about playing the same, giving the guys a chance to win every night, and then everything takes care of itself. If you do those things and play consistent, win games and put yourself in a good position to win the Stanley Cup, then everything else is gravy."

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