Former Caps goalie Kolzig joins coaching staff

Olie Kolzig’s career with the Capitals was marked with a Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. His exit was far more infamous, as Kolzig was caught in a three-goalie carousel in 2008 and left Washington as a free agent that summer.

But less than two years after retiring, Kolzig is back as the Caps on Thursday named him associate goaltending coach. Any rift he had with the organization is long in the past as he’ll work with returning goaltending coach Dave Prior to develop the team’s young goalies.

”Time heals all wounds. The more I was removed from a few years ago and being retired and getting a better perspective on things,” Kolzig said Thursday. “[There’s] no ill will toward each other, certainly not on my part. Not on their part. So we just moved on, and that’s why I was so excited when this opportunity came up.”

Kolzig was the odd man out three seasons ago when the Caps acquired Cristobal Huet and went with Brent Johnson as his backup. At the time, he criticized Bruce Boudreau for not understanding goalies, but he’ll be reunited with his former coach and appears happy to smooth over any problems.

Prior is back as the full-time coach, replacing Arturs Irbe, who was goaltending coach for two seasons before leaving for “family reasons, personal reasons,” according to general manager George McPhee. Prior was with the Caps from the 1996-97 season through 2008-09 and helped Kolzig develop into the best goalie in franchise history. It was Prior’s idea to bring in Kolzig as his associate goalie coach.

“Our first choice was Olie and the first one who came to mind,” McPhee said. “We actually talked to him about it a few years ago. He wasn’t ready at that time, but he seems to be ready now.  The time was right to do it.”

If Semyon Varlamov (a restricted free agent) returns, the Caps again will have one of the best young goaltending trios in the league with Michal Neuvirth at the NHL level and Braden Holtby expected to be next in line. Kolzig praised all three goalies but said he relates closest to Holtby, the fiery 21-year-old who is considered one of the elite prospects in hockey.

“From what Dave told me, he’s kind of got the same temperament and the same competitive nature,” Kolzig said.

Kolzig will take a backseat to Prior at Kettler and with the Caps but have a larger role with Hershey (AHL) and South Carolina (ECHL). But analyst Justin Goldman of the Goalie Guild said no matter where Holtby starts the season, he’ll be the biggest beneficiary of Kolzig taking this job.

“There’s a lot of similarities between Holtby and the way Kolzig played when he was in the NHL,” Goldman said, pointing to similar biomechanics, size and style. “I think this really bodes well for Holtby long-term.”

Fundamentally, the fact that Kolzig credits Prior for helping him find consistency after “floundering” a bit during his playing career can only help Holtby, Neuvirth and Varlamov. Kolzig mentioned goalies spending too much time on their knees in the butterfly, and he and Prior share the ability to help the three improve their footwork.

And while Kolzig’s bad hip will prevent him from strapping on the pads, the 41-year-old with every franchise goaltending record appears ready to learn from Prior again and pass some of that along.

“Being away for two years, I started to get an itch again,” he said. “I’m ecstatic to finally come back  basically to the place I call home.”

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