- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

At one point in Olie Kolzig’s career, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t play 250 games in the NHL. Winning that many wasn’t a consideration.

“I’m not there yet, so let’s not get carried away,” the steadiest goalie in Washington Capitals history said. “Two hundred-and-fifty? The way my career started … nah.”

But here he is, one win away from achieving a milestone only 35 other NHL goalies have reached. His 4-1 victory over longtime nemesis Toronto on Friday night left him at 249-240-63 with five no-decisions officially called overtime losses.

Pinning Kolzig down to acknowledge what he has accomplished on a team that has made the Stanley Cup finals only once is difficult. He is full of self-deprecating attempts at humor, almost embarrassed that he is mentioned in the same discussion with some of the game’s greats.

“You get caught up with what Patrick Roy [all-time leader with 551 winsid in his career, Marty Brodeur [430cq[-]], Eddie Belfour [456], and compared to them, 250 is pretty minuscule,” Kolzig said. “It’s a lot of wins but nowhere near those guys. But to hear that only 35 guys have [250 or] more, that adds a little significance. I still have a few years left. Maybe we can break the 300 barrier, but the ultimate goal is the Stanley Cup.”

This has been a tough season for Kolzig, personally and professionally. His wife and three children have stayed in Washington state so his son Carson can be treated for autism by people with whom he is familiar. And his team is going through the painful process of rebuilding, which does not lead to many wins.

After Tuesday night’s 5-0 loss to Florida, Kolzig is 15-21 with the five overtime losses this season. The Caps have two more games before the Olympic break — at Philadelphia tomorrow night and against Pittsburgh at home Saturday.

The Caps’ situation this year is one the 35-year-old is used to. Washington usually seems to be in a state of flux for one reason or another. For instance, in 1992 the club practically gave up on Kolzig and loaned him to a Buffalo affiliate for a full season. It was either that or release him. Kolzig rewarded Buffalo by taking its farm team to the American Hockey League championship.

He was drafted 19th overall in 1989 and played his first NHL game that fall, losing to Hartford 4-1. He played because he had an outstanding camp and because one goalie held out and another was injured. After another loss he was back in junior hockey.

He appeared destined to be a backup until Oct. 1, 1997, opening night in Toronto. Bill Ranford started against the Maple Leafs but pulled a groin at 19:23 of the first. Kolzig was in net to start the second and hasn’t been challenged since. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie in 2000, two years after taking the Caps to the Stanley Cup finals.

“The year we went to the finals, the Buffalo series, I remember Game6 vividly,” Kolzig said, a 3-2 overtime victory to clinch the Eastern Conference. “Joe Juneau scored [the winner], which is ironic because he had a breakaway in one of those Pittsburgh marathons and didn’t score. I remember an overtime win one year against Florida; we were 16 points behind them at Christmas and went on an incredible run and caught them.

“And I remember my first win, 5-2 over the Islanders. I’ll never forget that one.”

It was the Caps’ first home game after the 1994-95 lockout. Eleven seasons later, only six active goalies are ahead of him in victories.

“Hey, I’ve been very fortunate to play behind some very good defensive teams, so 250 will be a great milestone when I get there,” Kolzig said.

Kolzig is in the final year of his contract and would like to finish his career with the Caps, but that’s not totally up to him. His agent and the team have been talking about a deal, but nothing has been settled.

“Hopefully they can get it worked out because it’s been fun playing here,” he said. “If they don’t get it done before the [March 9 trade] deadline, then I don’t think I’ll be here the next day. If it doesn’t get done, I’ll be disappointed. But I’m optimistic.”

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