Olie Kolzig gave a brutally honest read on ex-Washington Capitals teammate Alex Ovechkin on Wednesday, stepping so far outside the politically correct box the team is usually contained within.
"For Alex, it's a work ethic," said Kolzig, now the team's associate goaltending coach. "He just has to get back to being the way he was in his younger days and maybe not get wrapped up too much in the rock star status that comes with being Alex Ovechkin."
Kolzig was the first Caps official to say anything like that publicly. While the captain laughed off the rock star line, general manager George McPhee didn't refute those comments.
In fact, he agreed.
"We don't disagree with what Olie said yesterday," McPhee said. "Just being honest."
More specifically, the GM said it was important to be reminded about work ethic. He brought up stars Sergei Fedorov, Mario Lemieux and Corey Perry and made it clear that talent can still make a difference, but more is often necessary.
Kolzig's honesty was a wake-up call of sorts.
"What we all learn is they have to be reminded once in a while if you're working hard all the time that's when you become unstoppable, and you have to push them from time to time," McPhee said. "But a lot of the great ones have done that, and Ovi does it from time to time, too. Sometimes, the game comes easy to you and you have to remind them we're not going to win consistently doing that. If we push you and you're working hard every night, that's when you're a handful."
Ovechkin is on pace for 34 goals this season, slightly above the disappointing 32 he put up a year ago. Signed to a 13-year, $124 million extension four years ago, the Caps expect "unstoppable" out of their highest-paid star.
Just moments after making it clear that his team's situation makes this a "serious time," Ovechkin smiled and joked about Kolzig's pointed criticism.
"About the rock star? Yeah, I just want to look like him," Ovechkin said. "He's a rock star — actually, he was a rock start. But right now he's in retirement. It's normal situation."
Or as normal as it can be when a former teammate of three years-turned-coach voices that to a group of almost a dozen reporters. The Caps' captain appeared to take issue with another notion Kolzig put out there — that he was having less fun than he was earlier in his career.
"He's not in the team right now. He's on travel, [he sees a] couple games and I was suspended like he saw," Ovechkin said. "Probably he didn't see me lots of time like he used to see me."
Ovechkin insisted he was having fun.
"I'm always happy. Life is great," he said.
He said he and Kolzig talked over dinner and "make some happy time." When reporters asked about his playing "Guitar Hero" and performing rap videos with Kolzig, Ovechkin flashed some vintage charm.
"Yeah," he said. "Rock star German style."
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