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Kolzig remains steady at 36
Olie Kolzig is the long-term symbol of everything that is solid about the Washington Capitals. He’s the identifying fixture, the man holding the team together, the standard of excellence against whom others are measured.
And in an era when loyalty seems to mean little, he may be one of a dying breed — a player with a lengthy career who played for only one team.
“There’s such a strong connection from him to the fans to what the Capitals are all about,” coach Glen Hanlon said. “Especially today, where you have free agency at 27 years old, it’s going to be hard to see somebody play their whole career in one city.”
The 36-year-old Kolzig has played parts of 15 seasons in Washington, long enough to hold seven season records, eight playoff records and 10 career records. On Saturday night against Carolina, for instance, he passed 35,000 regular-season minutes in net.
To put his tenure in Washington in perspective, the young, rebuilding Caps had several players in training camp who were born only a year before their elder statesman was drafted in 1989.
“Stability, that’s what he means to us,” Hanlon said. “As a coach you’re concerned about how your team is going to react to a loss or how they’re going to come to practice and work. It makes your job so much easier because you know Olie is not going to put up with anything that’s bad.”
Like the season opener against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden last week. The Caps were tied 1-1 in the second period before a series of mistakes handed the Rangers a 5-2 victory. Kolzig was not pleased and made sure his teammates knew it.
“I was frustrated,” he said. “We didn’t play as well as we could have. … We made some mistakes. … It was a game I felt we could have stolen. To a man we agreed we didn’t play our best hockey. We just had a few brain cramps. I was frustrated at myself, too, for not stopping [Brendan] Shanahan.”
He took it out with his heavy goalie stick on the dashers and hallway at Verizon Center the next day as he exited practice, clearly sending the message that losing in that manner won’t be tolerated.
“He’s been around so long — Stanley Cup finals, playoffs. He knows what it takes to win in this league, the commitment that each individual has to make,” said right wing Chris Clark, the team captain. “He knows how to handle certain situations. He doesn’t speak up all the time, but when something needs to be said, he’s a good one to do it. And whatever he says, the guys take to heart.”
Kolzig has played in a team-record 605 games and has six more wins than losses (255-249-74), a remarkable feat considering some of the abysmal teams management has put in front of him. His career goals-against average is 2.66 and his save percentage is .897, both commendable statistics.
“A lot has to do with his won-lost record,” Hanlon, a retired goalie, said when asked how long he thought Kolzig would stick around. “It’s easy to be 40 and handpick a team that will likely win a Stanley Cup and go there, but I don’t think anybody can play a long time in an under .500 environment. It’s up to us to improve and get to that mark. He could play till he’s 40 if he wants to.”
Kolzig is in the last year of his contract but has said he would like to finish his career with the Caps. He also has said whether he does depends on the direction he feels the club is taking when contract time comes.
“When it stops being fun,” he said when asked when he might retire. “When I don’t feel competitive any more. Being 36, I feel as good as I ever have. Part of that is being a little lighter [221 pounds], which, when you’re older, is a big deal. Your joints don’t bear as much weight. You don’t get winded near the end of practice. Little things that I hope keep me playing until I’m 40.
“Hopefully, at the end I’ll end up with a championship. That’s the ultimate milestone we’re all trying to achieve.”
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