- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Goaltenders thrive with comfort and seek routine, but Olie Kolzig felt it was necessary to disrupt his.

Kolzig’s play has been much improved in recent weeks, and he thinks it is in part because the 37-year-old goalie is snubbing recent hockey tradition by skipping the morning skate on days in which he is slated to start in net for the Washington Capitals.

“Pregame skates I think are really overrated,” said Kolzig, who won his 300th career game Wednesday night against Calgary. “I think it is more of a mental thing. Guys are just used to a routine that they’ve had since junior or college hockey.”

Athletes in other sports also have workouts on game day, but they are very light in comparison to hockey’s morning skate. Baseball players take batting practice and basketball players have walkthroughs, but hockey players go through something much more equivalent to an actual practice.

It is part of every hockey player’s daily deal — wake up, go through the morning skate, take an afternoon nap and then go to the rink.

“For a lot of guys it is mental,” Kolzig said. “They will go into a game really worried that because they didn’t have a morning skate that they won’t feel good in the game. I think it is the exact opposite.”

For Kolzig, the numbers certainly support his argument. In the 14 games since Kolzig stopped going on the ice with his teammates in the morning, he has a 2.37 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. In the 14 games before his decision, those numbers were 3.57 and .861.

Part of the formula for his success also has been coach Bruce Boudreau playing the other goalie — first Brent Johnson and now Cristobal Huet — more, but Kolzig thinks he is benefiting more from the energy he preserves by not taking the skate.

“If you guys see me out in practice, I get pretty involved,” Kolzig said. “Sometimes I get pretty irritated, and if I have a rough morning skate, sometimes I maybe carry that over into a game. For whatever reason I’m not skating in the morning, and I feel like I have a lot more jump.”

For a long time, people have rationalized the morning skate as part of the conditioning necessary to play in the league, but the increase of offseason workouts has nullified that notion.

“They come to camp in great shape, and it is about getting them into really peak condition in camp and then they stay that way all year,” Caps general manager George McPhee said. “It is often in this league more about recovery than conditioning.”

It is a practice Kolzig said he expects to continue in coming seasons. He may participate in the morning skate for some early season games to help see more shots, but he will lean toward preservation instead of extra on-ice preparation.

“You’ve got that 10-to-15 minute warmup before the game, and that’s all you need as long as you prepare in the morning — you know some stretching, maybe a little bike ride to get the legs loose and then focus on the game,” Kolzig said. “Hopefully a lot more guys use that philosophy because I think we would have even more energy.”

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