- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

There’s little suspense when it comes to goalies at the Washington Capitals’ training camp.

Former Vezina Trophy winner Olie Kolzig will be the starter for the seventh straight season. Sebastien Charpentier, who replaced veteran Craig Billington as Kolzig’s backup last year, will fill that role again. Maxime Ouellet and Rastislav Stana will split duty again with Washington’s American Hockey League team in Portland, Maine. And 2002 draft picks Maxime Daigneault and Robert Gherson soon will return to their junior teams for more seasoning.

“Charpy earned his stripes [over three seasons] in the American League, and we would rather have Maxime and Rastislav play 40 games down there than to have one of them play 12 games behind Olie,” general manager George McPhee said. “A lot of people are talking about Ouellet with good reason, but Stana very quietly had a very good year in Portland. We like both of them a lot. This is probably the best goaltending we’ve ever had.”

Charpentier, 26, Ouellet, 22, and Stana, 23, can afford to be patient. Kolzig was. Washington’s top pick in 1989, Kolzig played in just 71 NHL games during his first eight years in the organization but has averaged 69 games a season since he replaced injured Bill Ranford in the fall of 1997.

That doesn’t leave much playing time for his backup, which can be tougher on a young goalie like Charpentier (5-7-1 with a 2.79 goals-against average last season) than on a Billington playing out the string.

“Of course I want to play more, but I understand my role and I have fun with it,” said the ever upbeat Charpentier, a fourth-round draft pick in 1995. “Usually, they don’t call on you unless we’re losing badly or Olie has gotten hurt. It’s kind of tough practicing as hard as anyone, knowing that you’re not going to play that much. And then when you do get a chance, you’ve been sitting for a long time and they expect you to be as good as Olie.”

Just 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, Charpentier is no match physically for the 6-3, 225-pound Kolzig, but goalie coach Dave Prior believes the Drummondville, Quebec, native could be an effective No.1 if necessary. Prior said Charpentier, who hasn’t missed a practice in two years despite arthritis, was at his best last year in the two stints when he played regularly because Kolzig was hurt.

“Charpy’s very patient at staying on his feet, and he’s very mobile,” Prior said. “I don’t agree when people say you have to be big to play goalie these days. Charpy’s strong enough to handle the traffic in front, and his heart is huge. He could handle the job.”

Ouellet and Stana believe they could, too, although they know it would likely take a serious injury to Kolzig and poor play by Charpentier for either to get a chance to show it.

“I’m much quicker than I was last year, and my positional game is getting better,” said the 6-2, 195-pound Ouellet, a Beaufort, Quebec, native whom the Caps obtained from Philadelphia in the Adam Oates trade in March 2002. “I developed more in Portland working with Dave and [Pirates coach] Tim Army then if I had stayed in Philly. [The Flyers] tried to change my style, to make me stand up a little more, butterfly less and poke-check more. It’s flattering when people see potential in you. I think I’m ready to play in Washington, but if I have to go back to Portland [where he was 22-16-7, 2.40 last year], I’ll just keep working on my game.”

This will be Ouellet’s third AHL season but just the second for Stana, a seventh-round pick in 1998 who like Kolzig and Charpentier spent time in the lower minors.

“I want to play as much as I can in preseason to show them that I’ve improved since last year,” said the 6-2, 181-pound Slovak [8-11-4, 2.17 in Portland]. “My first camp here I had no structure at all. I was all over the place. Every year I get better at that, but my flexibility is always going to be in my game. I think I’m ready to play here, but I know that most goalies take time before they play in the NHL regularly.”

Prior said Ouellet is old beyond his years in being able to read a play but wants him to challenge shooters more. The coach loves Stana’s ability to react to situations but wants him not to have to rely so much on athleticism. There’s only one Dominik Hasek.

“Both Maxime and Rastislav have the ability to play in the NHL, but could they sustain it?” Prior said. “You see goalies all the time who look good for a game or two, or even a season, and never repeat that success. Maxime and Rastislav are both still evolving. They know the shooters aren’t as good and the players aren’t as fast in the AHL.”

Note — The Black-White intrasquad scrimmage is at 7 tonight at Piney Orchard.

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