There’s an old saying in sports that goes, “Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.” For the Washington Capitals, one of the best trades has proven to be one that they did make, but one which did not include heart and soul goaltender Olie Kolzig.
Fourteen years ago, New York Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine with his young son Gunnar, who had recently been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Esiason started the Boomer Esiason Foundation to help raise education and awareness and to help fund research for a cure for the disease. A decade and a half later, the Esiason Foundation has raised nearly $60 million and the expected life span of those afflicted with CF is rising.
Not long after Olie Kolzig and his wife Christin’s son Carson was diagnosed with autism, Kolzig followed Esiason’s path and created Carson Kolzig Foundation and was co-founder of Athletes Against Autism, an initiative of Cure Autism Now. The Kolzigs led the Caps’ efforts to host Autism Awareness Night each of the last two seasons and to host Saturday’s Walk Now for Autism on the National Mall.
Kolzig knows he is much closer to the end of his playing days than he is to the beginning. He owns a piece of a Western Hockey League team, the Tri-City Americans, and has dabbled a bit in broadcasting as well. But Kolzig knows how his post-retirement days will be spent.
“There’s no question,” Kolzig declares. “I’m going to be a lot more involved in the two foundations that I’m a part of. I’m going to be a big autism advocate. There is still a lot to be done as far as funding for autism in both research and support. It is the single largest disorder in the U.S. It’s more than children’s cancer and cystic fibrosis and diabetes combined. And it gets the least amount of funding. I will definitely be a lot more hands on when I’m retired.”
Kolzig knows his on-ice accomplishments can only help autism’s cause, much in the way that former NFL MVP Esiason’s gridiron exploits helped his own foundation flourish.
“It’s no coincidence,” says Kolzig. “Obviously a guy of Boomer Esiason’s stature, he’s got a lot of contacts and a lot of people he has known from playing football and post-football in his broadcasting career. So he has those avenues where he can raise a lot of money, which in turn will increase the research and the treatment. The patients are the ones that benefit from it. Like I said, there’s no coincidence. That’s a fact. That’s the basis behind Athletes Against Autism. We try to get as many athletes on board so that we could create one giant voice and be heard and get the necessary funding to first of all try to find out what is causing it and then secondly for parents that are struggling with it to get the necessary interventions and treatments to help their child.”
Cure Autism Now/autism Speaks is hosting Walk Now for Autism on Sat. Oct. 20 at the National Mall. For more information and to register, you can visit the WALK NOW for Autism Capitals Team Page by clicking here.
More than a decade ago, the 1996-97 edition of the Capitals was struggling. The team was on the periphery of the playoff chase and looking for a spark to put it over the top and into the playoffs for a 15th consecutive season. Washington called the USAir Arena home in those days, and David Poile was the team’s general manager at the time. As the end of February drew near, Poile began discussing the parameters of a blockbuster deal with Boston Bruins general manager Harry Sinden. The Bruins were in the midst of a poor season and had a few unhappy vets hoping to find their way out of town while the B’s were looking to set themselves up for the future.
On Mar. 1, 1997, Poile pulled the trigger. He sent goaltender Jim Carey and promising young forwards Jason Allison and Anson Carter to the Bruins in exchange for goaltender Bill Ranford and veteran forwards Adam Oates and Rick Tocchet.
The deal was made a few days too late to get the Caps into the playoffs that year, and Poile was dismissed at season’s end. But the swap ended up helping both teams, as Washington made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, and got several productive seasons out of Oates. Allison and Carter both blossomed into above average players in Boston.
That six-player swap might have turned out much differently, and so might have the fortunes of both teams and the players involved had Sinden made a different choice. When Poile requested Ranford in the deal, Sinden told him he would need a goaltender in return. Poile gave Sinden a choice: Kolzig or Carey. Sinden did what most GMs in the league would have done at that time; he took Carey. Less than a year earlier, Carey had won the Vezina Trophy.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Kolzig took over as the Capitals’ No. 1 netminder in 1997-98, and won a Vezina Trophy of his own in 1999-00, a year after Carey played his last pro game for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the now-defunct International Hockey League.
Kolzig has 205 wins in the last eight seasons, third in the league behind Martin Brodeur’s 295 and Eddie Belfour’s 208. Now in his 19th season as a member of the Washington organization, Kolzig’s tenure has spanned more than half of the franchise’s entire lifespan. He has played 662 games (through Oct. 18) in a Caps sweater and opened the season with more NHL games played than the other four starting goaltenders in the Southeast Division combined. Only two goaltenders in the history of the league – New Jersey’s Brodeur and the Rangers’ Mike Richter have played more career games all with the same team than Kolzig. And as soon as Kolzig plays five more games for the Caps, he will trail only Brodeur on that list.
Sinden’s folly wasn’t the only time Kolzig nearly escaped the Caps’ clutches. The organization was stacked with netminders in the early 1990s, so Kolzig was forced to wander a bit. He played for the ECHL’s Hampton Roads team. He was loaned to Rochester of the AHL, the Buffalo Sabres’ top farm club. << Part 1
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