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After nearly two decades, Kolzig calls it quits

by Adam Kimelman
For Olaf Kolzig, the decision to retire after 19 professional seasons, 17 of which were spent in the NHL, became somewhat of an easy one.

When pumpkin carving, gymnastics practice and carpools become more fun than working out and getting ready for the season, well, it's time to find a new line of work.

That's the decision Kolzig made Wednesday, when he announced he was leaving the game.

"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," said Kolzig. "I would like to thank my family, all my teammates and the fans for making my time in the NHL so special."

That time included 303 wins, a 2.71 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and 35 shutouts. He played 719 games (711 with the Washington Capitals), won the 2000 Vezina Trophy as the League's top goaltender and made two All-Star teams.

The end, though, didn't come the way he wanted. Kolzig had hip surgery following the 2007-08 season and said he contemplated retirement then.

"It's something that's been in the back of my mind for the last year and a half," Kolzig told "After I left Washington, I had hip surgery and I contemplated retirement at that point. I thought maybe it would be time to walk away from the game then. But I didn't want to end my career on a sour note. I rehabbed and tried to get into the best shape I could and give it one more shot with Tampa Bay. I suffered another serious injury, though, and I guess it was my body's way of telling me it might be time to move on.

"I wanted to give it all summer and see if I felt any different, if my body was feeling any different … and with it being a week away from the regular season, this is why I decided to make this decision."

Kolzig signed with the Lightning last summer but played just eight games, and he had surgery in January to repair a torn left biceps tendon. He was traded to Toronto at the trade deadline, but never played for them.

"I have absolutely no regrets," said Kolzig. "I would have loved to win a Stanley Cup, but there's a lot of players who played a long time that never won a Stanley Cup. When I got drafted, I was looking forward to playing just one game in the NHL so I could tell my kids I played in the NHL, and I did. I played 19 years in the pros, 14 years in the NHL, and it's been a fantastic ride. You don't want to end your career on an injury, but I played my last game with the Toronto Maple Leafs (and) with a win in the Bell Centre."

Kolzig's best moments came in the 1997-98 season, his first full season as an undisputed starter. He went 33-18-10 in 64 games, with a 2.20 GAA, .920 save percentage and five shutouts. The Caps finished fourth in the Eastern Conference and then beat Boston, Ottawa and Buffalo on the way to the club's first conference championship.

"After we beat Buffalo in Game 6, at our practice arena, about a mile and a half from the rink all you saw were cars lined up and down Piney Orchards Parkway," said Kolzig. "We achieved something no Caps team had ever achieved. The rink was sold out, and for all the fans who had waited for this moment, all the players were so excited."

The Caps lost in four games to the Detroit Red Wings. Kolzig played well, allowing just 13 goals, but the first three games were one-goal affairs, and in the fourth game, Detroit won, 4-1.

"We were ready for the Final, but I don't think as a team we thought we could beat Detroit," said Kolzig. "It's disappointing we lost in four games because I thought they were all close games. I thought we were missing that little bit of self-confidence going against Detroit. They were such a powerhouse. Everyone said we just met the right teams at the right time. If we maybe had a bit more self-confidence going in, I'm not saying we would have won that series, but it would have been closer."

That was as close as Kolzig would get to winning a championship. The Caps missed the playoffs the following season, and while they reached the postseason four more times with Kolzig in net, they never won another playoff series.

Kolzig, who earned the nickname "Godzilla" for his fiery temper, credits Caps goalie coach Dave Prior for helping him become the player he did.

"He and I had worked together with the German Olympic team," said Kolzig. "He didn't think he was going back to Dallas and he was looking for an opportunity, and I had mentioned to (GM) George McPhee about bringing him into Washington and they brought him in and it was the best thing for my career. He was able to get me to channel my temper in a good direction. I owe a lot to Dave Prior. That's really when my career took off, when Dave came on board. He changed my way of thinking and the way I played."

Off the ice, Kolzig also made an impact. In 2006 he co-founded Athletes Against Autism with former NHL players Byron Dafoe and Scott Mellanby. His efforts there and in other charitable endeavors earned him the 2006 King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his leadership qualities and humanitarian contributions.

Kolzig, who also is a co-owner of the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, said he plans on staying in Tampa with his wife and three children until next summer, and then decide on their next location, and Kolzig then will decide on his next career.

"I'm kind of like a kid out of high school," he said. "I want to take a year off. I'm enjoying taking my kids to school and picking them up every afternoon, being more involved in their lives. Being able to be there for pumpkin carving on Halloween, (having) donuts with Dad. Everything a typical dad does with their kids.

"At some point, I'd love to get involved in management. The thought of being able to put a hockey team together intrigues me. Media and broadcasting intrigues me. At some point, hopefully there'll be some opportunities. Right now, I'm just enjoying being a dad and not enjoying the grind of getting ready for an NHL season."

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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