- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

It was a simple glove save in practice, as routine as any he’d made in the past two decades.

But something was amiss for Olie Kolzig, and he winced after the puck hit his hand. He wasn’t ready for the next shooter in line, and that puck also hit his glove, snapping his arm backward.

At that point, there was a real problem.

For the 38-year-old Kolzig, his first season away from the Washington Capitals had begun with promise. After that one shot in December, however, it quickly deteriorated both personally and for his Tampa Bay Lightning. Kolzig eventually was diagnosed with a torn tendon in his forearm, ending his season and putting a distinguished career in jeopardy.

“It was a freak thing,” Kolzig said Friday. “I had my first MRI about a week later, and it didn’t show anything major, but it kept getting worse and worse and eventually the tendon tore from the bone.”

It is the same injury that felled New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur earlier this season. After missing six weeks trying to rehab the injury, Kolzig made the decision to have surgery late last month. The recovery time is at least three months, which effectively ends Kolzig’s season because the Lightning are far from playoff contention.

This is also the second major surgery in nine months for Kolzig, who underwent a hip procedure in May. For the second consecutive season, Kolzig has a decision to make about his future - walk away from an NHL career spanning 17 seasons and more than 300 wins or again go through a grueling rehabilitation process in an effort to find employment for another year.

“I’m probably leaning toward retirement after talking about it with my wife,” Kolzig said. “But I still don’t have my name on the Cup yet, and I still have the desire to play. It is ‘Do I have the desire to go through the preparation of what it takes to get ready for a season?’ I’ve been pretty durable over the course of my career, but in the last year I’ve had two major surgeries. I’ve got to weigh all that and see what I want to do.”

If this is the end, it is not the way Kolzig envisioned it. After spending 10 seasons as the primary starting goaltender for the Caps, he was replaced as the go-to guy in the final weeks of last season by trade acquisition Cristobal Huet.

He watched as Huet helped the Caps into the playoffs with a stirring late-season dash and then a seven-game loss to Philadelphia in the first round. Kolzig became an unrestricted free agent July 1, but returning to the only organization he had ever known was not an option.

Instead, he signed a one-year pact with division rival Tampa Bay as part of an offseason shopping spree that was expected to catapult the Lightning into playoff contention. Despite a great first start by Kolzig when the team opened the season in Prague, his playing time was minimal behind starter Mike Smith and the team floundered.

Tampa Bay’s record has improved of late, but the Lightning remain the third-worst team in the league. Kolzig went 2-4-1 with a 3.66 goals-against average in eight starts and last played Dec. 11, stopping 31 of 32 shots in a 3-1 win at Montreal.

“It has been a frustrating year, and the injury was icing on the cake,” Kolzig said. “What [the surgery] does is it gives me time. I am working out and getting ahead of the summer workouts, getting a head start on it. Then we’ll see where I am at two months from now and if I have that desire to come back and play and go through the rigors of getting ready for a season. Then we’d have to wait until July 1 and see what happens.”

Instead of immediately moving to Washington state as originally planned, Kolzig said his family will stay in the Tampa area for another year whether he plays hockey next season or retires. In the meantime, Kolzig is still at the rink with his teammates each day, sporting a nasty scar on the inside of his forearm from the surgery.

With the Caps in town this past weekend, it was a chance for him to catch up with former teammates and for them to express their sympathy for his situation.

“I was sitting with him at the All-Star break when he found out, and obviously he was very disappointed,” said Matt Pettinger, a teammate of Kolzig’s both with the Caps and Lightning. “He just said, ‘Well, if this is my last season, then my last game - my last win - came in Montreal. That’s not a bad way to go out.’

“So if there is a positive to take out of it, there it is. It is a difficult way to end this season, but if you look big-picture at his career, it is only a small piece.”

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