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Itch for game led Kolzig to return to Capitals

by Corey Masisak
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Olie Kolzig took some time away from the NHL and the town where fans adored him for more than a decade.

During those two years he dabbled a little in coaching, helping out with the Western Hockey League team he co-owns, the Tri-City Americans. It helped him determine in what direction he wanted to go in his post-playing days, and Kolzig is now back with the Washington Capitals as the associate goaltending coach.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do when I was playing. I was just so focused on playing the game that I didn’t give post-career any thought," Kolzig said Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “That's what I took the two years off, to take some time with the family, reintroduce myself to the kids and my wife. But having said that, two years went by and I started to get the itch.

"What you miss and what I got a little bit of satisfaction from is being with the guys. Working the kids in Tri-Cities last year -- it brings back all those feelings and that’s ultimately what I want to do. I've played this game since, gosh, since I was 4 years old. I was a professional for 18 years. You do what you know best, and obviously that is the position of goaltending. I’m too old and my body's not strong enough to play anymore, so the second-best thing is to work with the young kids and teach what you know."

Kolzig will be working with Dave Prior, who was his goaltending coach for years with the Capitals and with the German national team. Prior had stepped away from the job for two years but kept an advisory role with the organization.

Arturs Irbe replaced him, but resigned citing family reasons after last season, and Prior resumed his old duties -- with some help from his old pupil. Prior helped develop Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, but he also played a big role in convincing general manager George McPhee to draft them.

“This is new for me, and it is going to be a learning experience, but having Dave Prior there guiding me -- I don’t know if there’s a better person to do that for me," Kolzig said. "It is real exciting. I took two years off from hockey, so to speak -- I worked with the junior kids back in Tri-Cities -- but just to be back with the organization at the NHL level and be with Dave Prior and watching the young kids and getting his take on things -- I’m really excited. I can’t wait for training camp and actually getting to be able to work with the kids on the ice and see the progress they make."

Kolzig is the most productive and popular goaltender in the franchise’s history. He won 301 games for the Capitals and spent 11 seasons as the No. 1 guy in net.

He helped Washington to the 1998 Stanley Cup Final, the lone such appearance in franchise history, and won the Vezina Trophy in 2000. Kolzig earned the nickname “Godzilla” for his fiery disposition on the ice, but "Olie the Goalie" was the face of the organization for several years and won the King Clancy Award in 2006 for his dedication to charity work.

"We asked Olie if he wanted to do it a couple of years ago, but he said he didn't feel ready to do it at the time,” McPhee said. "We're really delighted that we’ve got a guy with Dave’s experience, and with Olie coming in and bringing everything he brings. It is a nice team."

Kolzig’s return to the organization is the final act in putting to rest what was an acrimonious departure after the 2007-08 season. Washington traded for Cristobal Huet at the trade deadline that season, and he eventually became Bruce Boudreau’s go-to goaltender for the final seven games of the regular season and the seven-game playoff loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Kolzig signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2008-09 season, but was only able to play in eight games before a knee injury ended his campaign and he retired. The relationship between Kolzig and the franchise took a turn for the better before last season, when he was one of the featured guests at the team’s preseason convention.

There’s a good chance Kolzig’s No. 37 sweater will eventually end up in the rafters at Verizon Center, but for now he’s just back to being one of the guys -- even if he’ll be one of the most famous associate coaches in the League and fans will again be chanting his name in Washington.

"I can’t say I wouldn’t have gone to any other franchise, but I’m just happy it was this one,” Kolzig said. “Obviously it well-documented what happened a few years ago, but time heals all wounds. Everybody was ready to move on, and this is just another part of that process. I’m glad that I’m back and we’re moving forward."
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