TBL.com correspondent Erin Chenderlin caught up with new Lightning goaltender Olaf Kolzig on his drive down to Tampa from Washington State. Read about Olie's thoughts on coming to a new team, his charitable work with autism and why fans gave him the nickname Godzilla.
|After spending his entire 16-season NHL career to this point with the Washington Capitals, goaltender Olaf Kolzig has joined the Lightning for the 2008-09 season. |
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TBL.com: You've played your entire NHL career with one team, the Washington Capitals. Why now, after 16 seasons, did it feel right to make a change?
OK: Well, at the very end of last year, I didn't anticipate making a change. I wanted to be one of those athletes that could hang his hat on the fact that he started and finished his career with one team. As the season went on, it didn't look like that was going to happen. Over the summer, it was probably a 50/50 chance that I was going to retire, but Tampa really showed a lot of interest. It was a place I always liked to play in and I always played well in the city. My family's really excited about going to Florida, and it just made sense to make the change.
TBL.com: What excites you about coming to Tampa Bay?
OK: First of all, what the organization has done as far as changing everything – ownership, management, coaching and the personnel they've added as far as players. Secondly, going to Florida for my family. They're really excited, and ultimately that's what it comes down to, how your family feels. They're very excited, and as a player, I'm very optimistic about the chances with the team this year.
TBL.com: Your home in Washington State is a bit different than Tampa Bay … think you'll be able to adjust to the sunshine and beaches?
OK: [laughs] You know what? The last week and a half it's been over 100 degrees here in Washington. We don't have beaches but we've had a lot of sunshine. I've dealt with humidity in D.C. It's not going to be that much of an adjustment for me; it's going to be more of an adjustment for my family. There's going to be a lot more options for them. I'm not going to lie, it's going to be a little different going to practice in December when it's 75 degrees out, but obviously the focus is going to be on hockey.
TBL.com: With Tampa Bay and Washington both in the Southeast Division, you're familiar with both teams. How do you feel about being on the same team as Lecavalier and St. Louis, but now having to face shots from Ovechkin?
OK: I'd say my goals-against average would probably go down a little bit now that I don't have to face Marty and Vinny, but now I've got to face the two Alex's [Ovechkin and Semin], Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, so I don't really know if I've gained anything! That first game against Washington is going to be pretty weird for me, but I think after that, it's just going to be another team we need to beat to win the division. It's strange … two years ago I played with the first overall pick in Alex Ovechkin and you see how he developed and now we've got Stamkos and hopefully I can rub off on him like I did with Ovie.
TBL.com: What do you have to say about the fact that you played your first NHL game Oct. 11, 1989, before Tampa's No. 1 draft pick, Steven Stamkos, was even born?
OK: [laughs] I can say that probably for the last couple of year's worth of draft picks that have come into Washington! It's pretty weird. It tells you that you've played a long time and you're really only as old as you feel. When you see those kids come in, it kind of reminds you of how old you really are. At least I know I can still compete with kids that are half my age and hopefully show them a trick or two!
TBL.com: What would you say being in the NHL for 16 seasons has taught you?
OK: For me, I think never take things for granted. I played my first four years in the minors. I knew what it was like to ride the bus, I knew what it was like to play three games in three nights and I knew what it was like basically living paycheck to paycheck. Once I made it to the NHL … I just believe that you can't take any games for granted, you can't take any days for granted, because there's always somebody younger and better that's trying to take your job. If you don't take things for granted and you continue to work hard and practice, you're able to achieve a little bit of longevity, which I have. That's basically my philosophy.
TBL.com: Is that something you're trying to instill in some of the younger players you work with?
OK: Well, I hope it rubs off on them. It's not that I'm trying to; you just hope you lead by example. I try to be as professional as I can in my preparation and my attitude toward games and practice. I had a few of those guys when I broke into the league that I looked at and they rubbed off on me a little bit, and hopefully I can do the same for the young guys here in Tampa.
TBL.com: Who were some of those guys that took you under their wing and mentored you?
OK: Scott Stevens and Don Beaupre. A little later on in my career it was Dale Hunter and Craig Berube. They never made me feel like the rookie 'peon,' for lack of a better word, they made me feel comfortable, made me a part of all the team functions. I saw how hard they worked in the gym and how hard they worked on the ice and I tried to emulate them.
TBL.com: As a veteran and as a leader, what advice can you give to Tampa Bay's young goalies, Mike Smith and Karri Ramo, to help them become true No. 1 goaltenders?
OK: Like I said, just don't take any days for granted. Making the NHL is the easy part. It's staying there for a long time that's the tough part. Both of those guys are so talented. Smitty's not as young as Ramo, he's 26 years old. I can see the talent in him – he's a big kid like me, and as long as he works hard and doesn't take where he's at for granted and continues to try and better himself, he'll be fine. The talent's always going to be there, it's what you do with it that determines if a guy stays three or four years in the NHL, or 10, 15 years.
TBL.com: How do you feel your style in goal compares to Mike Smith's? Smith definitely likes to venture out of the net to play the puck.
OK: Now I'm more stay-at-home. Back in juniors, I used to get out there and play it more. I wasn't as skilled as Smitty as far as handling the puck, but I used to get out there and play it. It's something that I've been working on the last couple years. I know it's part of the game now. But I definitely won't say I'm like Smitty. I'm a little more conservative; I try and make the easy plays. Ultimately our job is to stop the puck, but you can help yourself a lot by getting out there and making plays to your defensemen.
TBL.com: Do you think there things you can both learn from each other?
OK: Oh, no question. No one's that good that they think they don't need to learn from somebody else, whether it's an older guy or a younger guy. Mike obviously has his strengths and talents and I have mine. We're both big goalies, I can definitely learn and see how he handles the puck so well and hopefully if he watches me play he learns something from me. We just wait and see, get to know each other and see how the year goes.
TBL.com: What was it like playing in the St. Pete Times Forum as an opposing goaltender?
OK: I loved it. More times than not, I usually played well in Tampa. It's a very hockey knowledgeable crowd. It seems to be more of a festive, party-like atmosphere than in most buildings. You're coming to the rink at 3:30, 4 p.m., and they already have a tailgate out on the plaza. It's very unique, almost more like a football-type atmosphere. As a player, you love having crowds like that. The rink itself, for a goalie, I enjoy it. It's bright, the ice is good and I'm actually excited about it being my home rink.
TBL.com: What would you say has been the highlight of your goaltending career so far?
OK: I'd say the highlight was when we beat Buffalo in Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals back in 1998 to go to the Stanley cup Finals. It was unbelievable. We fell a little flat in the Finals, but the group of guys we had … it was a special team. We weren't picked to go that far, and we made one heck of a Cinderella run. Even though we lost in four games against Detroit, the series was a lot closer than that. Back then, you thought that it wouldn't be that long before you were back there and I don't think Washington's gotten out of the first round since then. It makes you appreciate what Tampa did a few years ago. It's the hardest thing in sports to do, to win that Stanley Cup. I keep going back to this, but I've really learned to never take it for granted. Never take for granted that you're going to be in that situation again, because it's hard and chances are you're not going to be there again. If I ever do get back to the Finals, I'm definitely going to try and win this thing instead of just being happy to be there.
TBL.com: You do a lot of work with charitable foundations, including Athletes Against Autism, which you founded along with Byron Dafoe and Scott Mellanby. Tell me about that.
OK: In 2002, my son, Carson, was diagnosed with autism. Stu Barnes, who plays with the Dallas Stars, put me in touch with Scott Mellanby. They played together in Florida and Stu knew that Scott's son, Carter, was autistic, so I gave Scott a call. It was probably the best phone call I've ever made. He laid it out for me and told me it was going to be a tough road. Long story short, we cried on each other's shoulders for a bit, and then shortly after that, my best friend Byron Dafoe's son was diagnosed with autism. The three of us decided to take it to another level and try and form an organization of athletes, not just in hockey but all different sports. Those athletes weren't necessarily affected by autism, but many just wanted to be a part of it, lend their name and help raise awareness. So we approached the people at Cure Autism Now, which has become Autism Speaks since then, and they thought it was a great idea. We branched off of them, and I think we're at more than 100 athletes now, and we're out there raising money and raising awareness about autism. To date, I think we've raised more than $1 million in the three years we've been organized, since 2005. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. We had our first event in Canada two weeks ago in Kelowna, and we raised more than $200,000. Hopefully it's something I can bring to Tampa and raise more awareness about autism.
TBL.com: You also founded the Carson Kolzig Foundation, named after your son. How are the two different?
OK: The Carson Kolzig Foundation is more on a local level in eastern Washington State, where we live. The money we raise through that foundation goes right back to the community in helping educate people on autism, empowering families that are affected with autism and equipping the area with the necessary tools and people to help the community deal with autism. Eventually, our long-term goal is to fund a facility that is an autism center so people from all over eastern Washington can bring their children and have them evaluated and get the necessary therapies all in one place as opposed to driving all over to get them done.
TBL.com: Have you put any thought in to your new mask for Tampa Bay? Will you stick with the Godzilla theme? Where did that come from, anyway?
OK: I got that nickname when I played in Rochester back in 1992-93. I got loaned to Rochester from Washington and I immediately drew a connection with the fans. I'm a big guy, I play with a lot of passion and back then my temper was probably a lot more prominent than it is now! The people saw the way I played, they saw how fiery I was, and I came to the rink one day and they had a sign that said, "Nobody beats Godzilla!" It's kind of stuck with me ever since. It probably took me three or four mask designs before I finally chose the one I have. I think the first one that I had looked more like Barney, the cartoon dinosaur! The mask in Tampa really won't deviate too much from my design, other than instead of red it's going to be black and blue, and instead of the Capitol Building and Washington Monument on the sides, it's going to have a lightning bolt and palm trees. But no question, it will still have Godzilla.
TBL.com: OK, be honest: Who do you think would win in a fight – Lecavalier or Ovechkin?
OK: I would say Vinny. Vinny can handle himself. Ovechkin will surprise people, the way he's so strong on his skates. The fighting might be the only part of his game that he still needs to work on. I think Vinny's had enough experience over the years, back in junior and then obviously now in the NHL. I give Ovie a few years and he might be able to handle himself, but I would give Vinny the benefit of the doubt right now. He's such a big guy and he's obviously such a talented guy, he's going to be targeted by a lot of people. The way you make people back off is by doing that, defending yourself and showing that, 'Hey, I'm not going to take anything from you. If you want to bring it, go ahead but you're going to pay for it.' I think that's how Vinny plays.
TBL.com: Thanks, Olie, and welcome to Tampa!