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Kolzig's not a big shot, but he has one

by John McGourty

Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig has shown he has the ability to accurately shoot the puck well going back to his days as a young defenseman.
Olaf Kolzig video highlights 
It's not like Olaf Kolzig hasn't already made an impressive mark on hockey. The 2000 Vezina Trophy winner and 2006 King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner has won 301 NHL games, backstopped his team to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final and been named to an NHL First All-Star Team.

But in a bit of after-practice frivolity Tuesday, Kolzig created in a writer's mind the germ of an idea for a new skills contest at the annual NHL All-Star Game: The goalie slap shot competition!

And, having seen Kolzig's slap shot, I'd have to make him the early favorite to win. No kidding here, Kolzig has a rocket of a shot. And when it comes to accuracy, it's a good thing for Kolzig that he's a goalie. He's high, wide and handsome -- but rarely on net.

After the Washington Capitals finished practicing Tuesday morning, Kolzig stayed on the ice to get some extra work with goalie coach Dave Prior. The two have worked together with positive results for 11 years. The Capitals have posted three of their four best goals-against-averages in club history under Prior's tutelage.

Prior and Kolzig working seriously at one end of the rink was in marked contrast to the scene at the other end. Capitals goalie Brent Johnson was the target as a three-man team of assistant coaches, Dean Evason, Jay Leach and Blaine Forsythe, played 3-on-3 against the “Black Aces,” Steve Eminger, Tomas Fleischmann and Quintin Laing.

Without taking the time to add up the combined ages of these grown professionals, let's just say the maturity level averaged about 7, with repeated cries of; "That's against the rules." "What are the rules?" "There are no rules." "Gotta have rules."In the midst of all this, Johnson was the designated adult, referee and commissioner.

"It's a goal. Let's go," Johnson would intone and the single-zone skating, shooting, stick work, slashing, hooking and elbowing would resume.

The frivolity, as noted above, appeared childish at times, but is necessary. It's no fun for professional athletes to be relegated to healthy-scratch status, but they knew they could be called to duty at any time and must remain in shape.

That's not easy when the team is drilling four lines and three sets of defensive pairings during the usual hour of practice. Black Aces do most of their skating while their teammates are riding the bus back to the hotel.

It's Evason's and Leach's job to keep the Capitals extras working hard while remaining upbeat. Judging by this showing, they do a great job.

Evason was a scrappy, undersized forward with good offensive talents when he played for Washington, the Hartford Whalers, San Jose and Dallas from 1983-95. Defensively, you couldn't shake him because he has quick, quick feet, which were on display during the practice drill.

After Kolzig and Prior finished their work, Kolzig skated toward the bench where a reporter was standing. As he approached, he dropped his goalie stick, then his gloves and peeled off his Capitals sweater.

"I'm hoping this isn't a Brandy Chastain moment, Olie?" the reporter said.

"No, no, the undershirt stays on," Kolzig replied as he peeled off his chest protector, picked up a pair of regular hockey gloves and a left-handed stick.

With that, he skated out to a collection of pucks near the blue line, raised his stick back like Claude Lemieux and fired one rocket after another at the net.

Kolzig is a big boy at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds and he leverages that into his shot. After a couple of minutes, Kolzig, still wearing goalie skates and pads, began taking one-timers off passes from Prior, displaying perfect timing -- shot after shot after shot.

We're not kidding here; Kolzig has a big-time shot that is well practiced.

"I played defense for the first seven or eight years that I played hockey," Kolzig said later in the dressing room. "Then (I) became a goalie for some reason. I guess it helped my career."

The conversation then turned to Evason's skating and fitness.

"Deano looks like he could still play and he's what, 43 or 44?" Prior asked.

Kolzig looked doubtful and the reporter guessed closer to 50.

"No, Dean played with Darryl Reaugh on the Kamloops Blazers' team that lost to Ottawa in the Memorial Cup. What year was that, 1984?" Prior asked.

Don't play hockey trivia with Prior. He's right on all counts. Evason is 43 and played in Kamloops with Reaugh, Doug Bodger, Rob Brown, Greg Hawgood and Rudy Poeschek. He later coached the Blazers when Washington's Shaone Morrisonn and Philadelphia's Scottie Upshall were teammates.

"Evason's hurting right now," Kolzig laughed. "I took him for a $25 bottle of wine in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs when the Tri-City Americans swept the Kamloops Blazers. Then we bet double-or-nothing and the Americans eliminated the Seattle Thunderbirds in five games. After they beat the Spokane Chiefs, he's going to owe me a $100 bottle of wine. Nice, eh?"

"Nice, indeed. Why are you backing Tri-City?" Kolzig was asked.

"I played juniors there and I still live there in the off-season because that's where my wife, Christin, is from and I own the Tri-City Americans with Stu Barnes and some friends of ours," Kolzig said. "I started juniors with the New Westminster Bruins and we moved to Kennewick my second season."

"I played defense for the first seven or eight years that I played hockey. Then became a goalie for some reason. I guess it helped my career." -- Olaf Kolzig
The Tri-City Americans are based in Kennewick, Wash., which is close to the other Central Washington cities of Pasco and Richland.

The reporter used to work for a company that provided a service to racetracks. The threat was always that if you ticked off the boss, he might assign you to the small racetrack in Kennewick. The idea was that it was remote and dusty.

"Just the opposite, it's a beautiful area with great people, a wonderful place to raise a family," Kolzig said. "The economy used to be reliant on the Hanford nuclear facility, but it's more diverse now and growing rapidly.

"The team was struggling and they were going to move the team to Chilliwack, so we stepped in and bought the team," Kolzig said. "Stu played there with me. We joined with a couple of others. After a couple of years, we bought out some of the partners and brought in some others. We've doubled attendance in the last couple of years. Don Nachbaur, who played with the Whalers, Oilers and Flyers, is the coach and he does a great job."

During the 2004-05 NHL work stoppage, Kolzig served as the Americans' goaltending coach for Carey Price, the standout rookie goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens.

The irony of the situation is that Price's development allowed the Canadiens to trade goalie Cristobal Huet to Washington in February, costing Kolzig his starting position.

Kolzig is the only holdover from the 1998 Stanley Cup Finalists and he did yeoman work for the Capitals as they were rebuilding. Now that they're in position to win, Kolzig has been relegated to backup.

A few weeks back, he gave the standard hockey answer of wishing he was the starter but will do what the team needs ... but don't ask me again, please.

So, the reporter didn't. Like others, he's well aware of the quality of the man. After all, the King Clancy Memorial Trophy rewards leadership and "noteworthy humanitarian contributions to the community."

Kolzig is co-founder of Athletes Against Autism and the Carson Kolzig Foundation for Youth Autism, named for his son who suffers from the condition. Kolzig also provides tickets to Capitals games to Washington's Children's National Medical Center, The Children's Inn at the National Institute of Health and the American Special Hockey Association.

He may have a big shot but he doesn't act like one.
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