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Kolzig Keys Caps

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
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Kolzig’s biological children are not the only kids he is drawing energy from these days. As one of the leaders in the locker room and the cornerstone of the franchise for nearly a decade, he is impressed with what he is seeing from the next wave of young Capitals.

alt “Going into this season, we knew it could have been a difficult year,” he admits. “But I think we are playing a lot better than people expected us to play. I said going into the season there would be some growing pains. They key is to be patient with everybody. I think guys are improving from game-to-game and the young guys are playing with more confidence. If it works out it’s a great situation for a long time to come here in Washington.”

Born in South Africa, Kolzig is a German citzen by birth and has twice been named to represent Team Germany in the Olympic Games. Knowing that the 2006 Games are likely to be his final foray in the Olympics, he will certainly savor the experience.

“I enjoy it," he says. "The first year [1998] I went there, I missed the first couple games and we ended up in the relegation round, so it wasn’t really the same thing. I got hurt two days before Salt Lake [in 2002]; I was there but it wasn’t the same thing because I wasn’t playing. This year it is going to be different because we’re qualified, we’re in the top eight. The games are all meaningful and I will be there from game one."

Kolzig was Washington’s first choice in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. He has been a member of the Capitals’ organization for more than half of the organization’s entire lifespan. He has been in the organization for 16 years now, longer than any other player in the franchise’s history.

His play this season has proven how important steady and reliable goaltending is to a rebuilding team. While the Capitals’ ongoing rebuilding process figures to extend into next season, Kolzig’s contract expires at the end of 2005-06. With no clear-cut successor in the team’s system, and Kolzig looking for “one more contract,” the Caps and Kolzig would appear to be well-suited for one another.

“I’m more optimistic about me finishing my career here now than I was in September,” he says, when asked pointedly about his future in Washington. “It’s a fun dressing room and it’s a great bunch of guys. Obviously we’ve got a franchise player in Alex [Ovechkin] who could take this team a long way. If you give him some players [to play with], if we solidify some areas and if the young guys gain some more experience this year, the rebuild could be quicker than I think everybody thought. So why not stay here, finish your career here and try to win a Cup here? That would be the ultimate.”

A potential unrestricted free agent in the final year of his current deal, the Caps and Kolzig would appear to be a good match for one another beyond this season. Washington general manager George McPhee is typically and understandably tight-lipped when it comes to the delicate matters of contracts and contract extensions, but he leaves little doubt as to his feelings about Kolzig.

“We know what he can do,” said McPhee recently. “He carried this team to the Stanley Cup finals. He has won a Vezina. He actually played better two years after he won the Vezina. He has the physical attributes you are looking for. The mental part of the game with Olie, when everything is on the line, he doesn’t wilt. He battles. And that’s what you want from your athletes.”

alt Whether Kolzig’s final NHL contract is signed with Washington or with another NHL club may ultimately depend on the team’s commitment to getting better. All things being equal, Kolzig would prefer to remain in Washington. If the organization shows a willingness and an ability to become a Stanley Cup contender in the goaltender’s stated two- to three-year window, he would likely stay put and try to realize his dream of winning the chalice with the team that drafted him.

“We are in a pretty good position right now obviously with our [salary] cap room,” says Kolzig. “Just the excitement of having a guy like Alex and moving into a new state-of-the-art practice facility next year [is key]. [Washington] to me is an underrated city. I live downtown now and it’s a very underrated city. With all those components, hopefully you can bring in some very skilled character players as unrestricted free agents. If we can do that, there will be a quick turnaround next year.”

Kolzig is open to staying in Washington beyond this season, and the Caps are certainly in need of the stability, consistency, leadership and excellence he provides. Whether a deal can be struck to the satisfaction of both parties remains to be seen, but it will be determined in the months ahead. But there is no doubt as to where his coach and his teammates stand on the issue.

"From a coaching standpoint, even if we were behind schedule in what we are trying to do, you can’t do it without goaltending," asserts Hanlon. "If we are trying to develop, it’s easier to develop in a winning environment. Olie helps us with that."

"He is getting better every year," says Halpern. "I don’t think age is an issue. A goalie like him doesn’t come around very often – if at all – in some organizations. Maybe teams have won a Stanley Cup without super elite caliber goaltending, but there haven’t been many.

"I think when you have a player like him, you have to try to win when he is on your team and when he is in his prime as he is right now. If you don’t put your best foot forward to try to win when he is here, it’s going to be a long time before a player like him comes back through here. The players in this locker room would like to see him get signed to a deal. The youngest guy in this room I’m sure would want to play with him as long as he possibly could. I don’t think the organization would disagree with that. It’s more than being just a good goalie, it’s being a good leader and it’s raising the level of the team."

It sounds like Kolzig would be willing to commit to the Caps if the Caps are willing to commit to a Cup. That could quite literally be a win-win situation.
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