- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2000

In the opening week of the Washington Capitals 1996-97 season, Olie Kolzig, then a backup goalie, came down with mononucleosis and missed three games. He hasn't had a sick day since.
That is a huge blessing to a team, having a player in a key position who goes on forever, but it also has a down side. Because the reigning Vezina Trophy winner plays like the Cal Ripken of old, nobody in the development stages behind him gets a serious test at the NHL level to see if the next Kolzig is in the system.
It is the one real chink in the Caps' depth chart. Veteran Craig Billington is Kolzig's backup but if either one goes down, the new backup will be a player who has no NHL experience.
Sebastian Charpentier, a 23-year-old who has spent more time in training rooms than playing the past two years, would now like to play his way into consideration as the next step behind the two veterans. The Caps would love to see that, too.
Charpentier was picked by the Caps 93rd overall in 1995 and was climbing the career ladder in rapid fashion. In 1998, his first year as a pro, he backstopped Hampton Roads, Va., to the East Coast Hockey League championship, the Admirals' first title since Kolzig brought them one in the early '90s. Charpentier played 47 games that season; he has played 27 in the two seasons since.
The goalie started experiencing pain in an ankle and foot, pain that would not go away. Three games into 1998-99 in Portland, Maine, he had surgery to repair tendon damage, recuperated and finished the season with six games in a lower league.
Last season the pain was worse and Charpentier could no longer hide a pronounced limp. It was well into the season that the problem was finally diagnosed as arthritis; medication eased the pain and the Caps hope it has rekindled his career.
"I'm enjoying the game so much right now because there is no pain," Charpentier said. "I don't want to put too much pressure on myself because I've been out for two years. That's a long time for a goalie but I don't feel like I've missed that much."
"He has the highest pain threshold of anybody I've ever seen," said Portland coach Glen Hanlon, the former NHL goalie, "so I know he's always going to be there for me and his teammates. He could barely walk to the ice last year yet he played and played very well. His whole life was structured around being able to get out of bed so he could get to the rink. I'll tell you, they don't come any more competitive than this guy."
He is no Kolzig but that has its advantages. Kolzig is 6-foot-3, 225; Charpentier is 5-foot-9, 160. Kolzig's size alone blocks large chunks of the net; Charpentier is more upright, presenting the same target as a crouching Kolzig. He is also exceptionally quick.
But he has missed, for all practical purposes, two crucial years of development and will have to regain timing.
"Surprisingly, the last two years when he hasn't been able to play all the way, his game has improved," said Dave Prior, the goaltending coach. "He's farther ahead than I would have thought based on those two seasons. He's had a good camp, he has a lot of athletic ability, moves with ease around the crease, he has quick reactions, he's very agile and recovers quickly. He's a very, very competitive kid with a big heart."
Now it's almost like starting over, having to recapture skills and prove it can be done all over again. He has to show management he can play a full schedule and be productive.
"He played 18 games last season and there's a huge difference between 18 and 70," said Hanlon. "From a skill standpoint, he's pretty darn good but he's got to work on things like mental preparation so he doesn't burn himself out. He can handle the pressure; I've seen him play in overtime so I know he's OK there. And as far as competitiveness, they don't come any better."

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