At the end of training camp before the 1992-93 season, the Washington Capitals had to make a decision on goalie prospects and decided to retain Byron Dafoe by sending him to their top farm team in Baltimore.
That left their No.1 pick from the 1989 draft, Olie Kolzig, as odd man out. The team couldn’t find a spot for him to play, and the possibility existed he would be released at age 21.
At the last minute, Buffalo called saying it needed a goalie for its Rochester, N.Y., farm team in the American Hockey League. Did the Caps have a spare?
Tomorrow night Kolzig returns to the scene of one of his best seasons ever, a season that might have saved his career as a pro, when the Sabres play a “home” game against the Caps in Blue Cross Arena at the Rochester War Memorial.
“When I first went there, I thought my career with the Caps was over,” Kolzig said yesterday. He and Dafoe, drafted in the same class, had battled yearly in the minors to see who would be Don Beaupre’s heir apparent, and it finally seemed Dafoe had won.
“We had a heck of a year,” Kolzig said of his season with the Rochester Americans. “We lost to Cape Breton in the Calder Cup finals. We upset Binghamton to get there, and I don’t think they lost five games all season long.
“Actually, I thought I was going to sign with either Buffalo or Boston. When the season was over, the Caps asked my agent what it would take to keep Olie in Washington. He said a one-way contract — we just threw that out — and they gave it to us. The rest is history.”
Kolzig went 25-16-4 during the 1992-93 regular season, finishing second in the voting for MVP of the AHL, and took the Amerks to the league finals. The following year, Kolzig and Dafoe led Portland, Maine, to the AHL championship.
When asked if that season in Upstate New York saved his career, Kolzig said, “There’s no question. That was the turning point as far as me being in Washington, anyway.
“I really developed as a playoff goalie there,” Kolzig recalled. “When I was there I just worried about playing hockey and not about being with the big club, worrying about how to impress management. I figured I was done with Washington and just concentrated on hockey. I had a great year.”
Dafoe ended up 16-20-7 in the Skipjacks’ final season before teaming with Kolzig the next season. The two are best friends to this day.
In the 1994-95 season Kolzig made it to the big team while Dafoe got into a spat with management that saw him later traded to Los Angeles.
This is the second season in a row that the Sabres have played a regular season “home” game in the city an hour’s drive to the east. A club spokesman said it is done in an attempt to raise the team’s visibility in western New York. It also happens to be the hometown of club owner Thomas Golisano.
Notes — Defenseman Brendan Witt left for his South Florida home to be with his family right after Saturday night’s game. He is expected back for tomorrow’s game. … Defenseman Nolan Yonkman, sent to Hershey for conditioning, returned to the Caps yesterday after playing in two games. … Center Dainius Zubrus missed practice with a dreaded “lower body injury.” It is not thought to be serious. He was replaced at forward in practice yesterday by defenseman Ivan Majesky, who is on injured reserve with the same type of injury.