- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2008

Shortly after watching his Washington Capitals come back from a two-goal deficit to win Friday night in Atlanta, Olie Kolzig needed to check on his other team.

Down the hall at Philips Arena, Atlanta Thrashers forward Mark Recchi thought the same thing. More than 2,400 miles away, the Tri-City Americans and Kamloops Blazers were about to face off in Game 1 of a Western Hockey League playoff series.

Kolzig is one of the partners in the Americans’ ownership group, as is Recchi with the Blazers. They are part of a growing contingent of current and retired NHL players who are executives for Canadian Hockey League junior teams.

They also have a friendly wager on the outcome of their teams’ first-round series.

“The loser has to have an interview done praising the other team as well as having to wear the other team’s jersey during that interview and then sign a jersey and hand it to the other team,” Kolzig said.

Kolzig’s team leads the best-of-seven series 3-0 and went for the sweep late last night. The Washington Capitals goaltender played for the Americans during his junior days. One of his partners, Dallas Stars forward Stu Barnes, also played for Tri-City.

Recchi, along with NHL players Darryl Sydor, Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan, purchased the Kamloops franchise before this season.

“Kamloops was at one point probably the top junior team in Canada, and we just kind of slowly saw it deteriorating. We wanted to help get it turned around and back to where it was,” Recchi said. “About four or five years ago we started talking about it, and it came to fruition last summer. The four of us all played there, and we are very passionate about the Blazers and want to restore what it is all about.”

Anaheim’s Scott and Rob Niedermayer have a less-publicized share of the WHL’s Kootenay Ice.

Former NHL legends Gordie Howe (Vancouver), Patrick Roy (Quebec) and Guy Carbonneau (Chicoutimi) are also owners.

A pair of former Caps, Dale Hunter (London) and Dino Ciccarelli (Sarnia), own Ontario Hockey League franchises with their brothers.

“I think it is great. I think if you can get alumni and hockey people involved it is better for the league,” Kolzig said. “You are going to have hockey people who are more concerned with putting a good product on the ice and developing the league than the bottom line.”

Kolzig and Barnes bought the Americans from a group led by NHL general managers Brian Burke and Glen Sather. Burke and Sather had tried to move the team to Chilliwack, British Columbia, in 2004, but the league denied them.

Instead, the group with Kolzig and Barnes bought the team, and the Burke/Sather group was awarded an expansion franchise, ensuring the Americans would stay in the small city of Kennewick, Wash.

“For me this is the only business I have known,” Kolzig said. “I’ve played since I was 4 years old, and I’ve always wanted to stay involved in hockey once I was done playing. This gives me an opportunity to be in my hometown where I am going to retire and an opportunity to be involved with and own the team that gave me the opportunity to showcase myself to get drafted.”

Some junior franchises, particularly ones in bigger markets with new arenas like Hunter’s London club, are successful businesses with high revenues. Recchi said his partners don’t expect to see a profit for 10 to 15 years, and Kolzig said his franchise “breaks even” every year.

After years of losing and financial trouble from poor attendance and community support, the Americans have undergone a renaissance with their new owners. This season Tri-City set a franchise record with 108 points, earning its first division, conference and regular-season league titles in the 20 years since the team moved to Kennewick.

Kolzig’s franchise is also becoming a goaltender factory. He and Brian Boucher are NHL veterans who played for the Americans, as did young netminders Jason LaBarbera and Carey Price. The team’s best player this year is 18-year-old goalie Chet Pickard, who is one of the top-rated North American goaltenders eligible for the upcoming draft.

For now, Kolzig doesn’t have much to do with the team’s day-to-day operations. He keeps tabs on the standings and watches some games on the Internet but only talks personnel with general manager Bob Tory when the organization needs to make a major decision.

“In a few years when we are all done playing, the board of governors’ meetings will be pretty fun,” Kolzig said.

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