Late in his tenure with the Washington Capitals, Olie Kolzig said Ron Hextall was one of the goaltenders he looked up to in his youth.
This didn’t come as much of a surprise considering how closely Kolzig’s career and fiery demeanor resembled Hextall’s. But after 14 full NHL seasons, the goalie, who was beloved in this city for both his play and work in the community during more than a decade with the franchise, officially retired Wednesday.
“The thing I will always remember about Olie was his intensity and fire,” former Caps general manager David Poile said. “I think he could have played forward with his competitiveness and desire. I almost wish goalies got into more fights because I think he would have been really good at it.”
Poile drafted Kolzig in the first round of the 1989 draft, and the first NHL player born in South Africa would become the team’s franchise goaltender for a decade. He helped Washington to its lone conference championship in 1998 and captured the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top netminder in 2000.
Kolzig’s name dominates the goaltender section of the team’s record book. He is the career leader in games played, wins, save percentage and shutouts. Long before Vancouver challenged tradition and named Roberto Luongo the first captain at the position in the NHL since 1947-48, Kolzig was Washington’s locker room leader and unofficial captain.
“I thought he was one of the most respected guys I’ve ever played with,” current Washington captain Chris Clark said. “Just coming in, he was one of the first guys to come up and say hello. The respect he got in the locker room, even from my first year when there were a lot of new guys - everybody knew of him, but nobody knew him personally, and he was awesome.”
As one of the co-founders of Athletes Against Autism, Kolzig’s presence in this area extended far beyond the rink. He was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his charitable work.
The end of Kolzig’s time with the Caps was not what he hoped - just as the team was rebounding from a rebuilding project and surging toward a postseason berth, Washington traded for Cristobal Huet, who became the club’s No. 1 goalie down the stretch and in the playoffs.
He began last season with Tampa Bay but was injured and eventually traded to Toronto as part of a salary purge.
“I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to play the game of hockey at the NHL level for many seasons, and I am grateful for everything the game has given me,” Kolzig said in a statement released by the NHL Players’ Association. “I would like to thank my family, all my teammates and the fans for making my time in the NHL so special.”
Kolzig finished his career with 303 wins, which is 21st in league history. Win No. 300 was his second-to-last with the Caps and proved to be the final send-off for one of the franchise’s most revered figures.
“Having a good goalie for a long time is a great thing and brings so much stability to your club,” Poile said. “He was a big reason why the Caps were able to stay good for so many years.”