- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The NHL lockout already has had a significant impact on Olie Kolzig. He sold his house in Annapolis, deciding to monitor the labor impasse from his permanent home in the Pacific Northwest.

“I don’t want to pay a mortgage on a place and not use it for 18 months,” says the Washington Capitals’ fixture in goal, who lives with his wife and three children in Kennewick, Wash. “We knew this [lockout] was going to happen for some time.”

The 34-year-old is working out in case the dispute ends and the NHL stages a shortened season, although he admits motivation has been difficult at times. In the meantime, the 1999-2000 Vezina Award winner has taken a job as goalies coach for his old junior team, the Tri-City Americans in Kennewick, where he is tutoring a top prospect half his age.

Kolzig stands to lose more than $6million if the season is wiped out. He signed a five-year, $31million deal before the 2001-02 season. The goalie checks the NHL Players Association Web site once a day for updates. While other NHL players have gone to play in Europe and elsewhere during the lockout, he plans to stay in Eastern Washington — for now.

“I have three kids at home, and I wouldn’t go over there with all this uncertainty [around the NHL],” says Kolzig, whose oldest child is 3. “I don’t want to sit out, but I can afford to. If the season is canceled in January, I may have to go somewhere and play. I don’t want to not play hockey for 18 months.”

At least physically, it is a welcome break for the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder. Kolzig spent the summer as Germany’s top goalie for the World Cup of Hockey. His team lost to Finland in the quarterfinals Sept.6, and it would have been a quick turnaround to start training camp nine days later.

“I have been charging nonstop for 31/2 years,” says Kolzig, who posted a .905 save percentage in the tournament. “This gives my body some time to rest.”

Kolzig is frustrated by the lack of progress in the labor dispute. And while he admits “salaries can’t keep escalating for the league to stay healthy,” he is opposed to any sort of salary cap and, not surprisingly, blames the owners for the current standoff.

NHL average salaries nearly have tripled to about $1.8million since the last work stoppage in 1994.

“It’s not like we held a gun to their heads when they offered us the contracts. Players have a right to try to get the best deal,” Kolzig says. “I think it goes way back to ‘94 when we had the last lockout. [Owners] knew this day would come. The owners spent the money. We didn’t force them. Now they are crying poor. It’s a shame they didn’t police themselves and show a little restraint like they have the last two summers.”

The Caps goalie says the union has made significant concessions. It offered a 5percent salary rollback across the board and even suggested a luxury tax — similar to those in the NBA and Major League Baseball — for teams who exceed a specific ceiling for salaries. However, a salary cap, which the owners insist must be included in any agreement, is unacceptable to the players.

“They want cost certainty,” Kolzig says. “As long as that’s their stance, there is nothing to talk about.”

Until a deal is done or the season is scratched, the goalie will stay home and try to impart his wisdom. The Tri-City Americans are made up of players 16 to 20 years old. Tri-City goalie Carey Price, 17, is expected to be a high pick in the 2005 NHL draft.

Kolzig is looking forward to his new role, which allows him to pass on his extensive experience and knowledge. The goalie, who has played in 544 NHL games and has a career save percentage of .909, has spent his entire career in the Caps’ organization since being its No.1 pick in 1989.

“It keeps me on the ice,” said Kolzig, who also will skate and may scrimmage with the team. “It gives me a chance to work with the young guys and learn about coaching. I don’t want to be a coach after I retire, though. I know first hand what they say about coaches. I don’t want them to say that about me.”

He plans to be low-key as a teacher.

“I am not going to change anybody’s style,” Kolzig says. “I just want them to be as effective as they can be. … I just want to be there to keep a bad day from becoming a bad week and deal with the ups and downs of being a goalie.”

It’s a position Kolzig knows well after years of both praise and criticism in Washington.

“I hope I am back there soon,” he says, not sounding optimistic.

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