A Name No Longer Mentioned

One player’s name certainly is emerging from training camp’s first week — by virtue of its omission.
That of Olaf Kolzig.
You don’t hear it mentioned among the press, by fans in the Kettler stands, certainly not by Capitals’ players or coaches. Everybody seems to have moved on from the April agony and the summer transition trauma.
HockeyWashington, so consumed by the drama of L’affair Nameplate five months ago, five months later seems to have reacted to a Kolzig-less training camp with a collective “Meh.”
I for one am a little surprised. I expected some manner of media frenzy (particularly on Day 1 of camp) pegged on “this the first day of hockey without Olie in Washington in more than a decade.” But it didn’t happen, and it isn’t going to, and it’s worth reflecting on why.
There are I think a handful of factors accounting for this striking silence for a hockey hero, but foremost among them is the fact that the Capitals in goal this September have an abundance of exciting talent. Over the past three days there were three highly competitive scrimmages that took place — with jobs on the line and highly skilled players littering all three competing rosters– and yet no team ever tallied more than 3 goals in any of them. I saw scores of breakaways and a pair of shootouts, and I saw goalies winning the overwhelming majority of those showdowns. And specifically, in the likes of Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, I saw a tandem of talent I’d never seen before at a Caps’ camp. Observers of this Capitals’ training camp, I believe, are too preoccupied with a fresh and great storyline in net to think back to that of even the recent past. Which, in Olie Kolzig’s case, represented a fading talent.
Capitals’ fans in the final third of the 2007-08 regular season saw a significantly improved Olie Kolzig in net, and with late February’s trade with Montreal they also saw scintillating virtuosity in his rival Cristobal Huet. The regular season’s final loss was on Kolzig, in Chicago, and it was ugly. Thereafter, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau rode Huet, who started and finished the team’s final seven games — all victories, culminating in a near miraculous Southeast division crown. They may not have admitted it then, but Kolzig’s defenders had to have seen the writing on the wall.
Indeed, even when new contract talks with Cristobal Huet fell apart, re-signing Olie Kolzig was never an option. The team needed to move in a new direction.
But the old netminder himself apparently didn’t see any such signs, and this leads to my third reason for the collective, quiet acceptance of his absence. When Kolzig very publicly postured that he had still no. 1 minutes and a no. 1 contract for a contending club ahead of him, he needed, for credibility’s sake, at a minimum, one or two contending summer suitors to make a play for his services. Instead, he ended up in Tampa Bay, for Matt Bradley money. The market spoke. Capitals’ management, which endured a torrent of message board tirades over their perceived handling of Kolzig, was vindicated.
Initially, most rightly viewed Kolzig’s public swagger and competitive perseverance as the byproduct of a special athlete’s pride. And most fans I think were inclined to cut Olie the Goalie a heck of a lot of slack in light of his enormous community contributions. That too is understandable. But Kolzig never articulated any acknowledgment of the team’s turning the corner, for the markedly, durably better, at a time when the rest of Washington had quickly gone hot over hockey. Instead, he remained in a self-centered posture. That I think in turn allowed many Capitals’ fans to turn the page.
A fourth and perhaps pre-eminent reason I think exists for this quasi-forgetfulness of athlete: the thirst for lasting victory. Fair or not, Kolzig, save for one Cinderella season in ’97-’98, was associated with an organization’s mediocrity and rebuilding. For a decade solid Olie Kolzig was the face of this hockey organization, and it was one Washingtonians could be proud of. But the team — his team — always fell short. Today Alexander Ovechkin is the face of the Washington Capitals, displaying a charisma the likes of which we’ve never seen in a hockey player in this town — maybe not among any pro athletes ever in this town. Part of the primal appeal of this current Caps’ team is its being led by the greatest hockey player on the planet, but nearly just as important is its being comprised of a young and exciting core that’s going to be around for a while.
A season ticket holder I spoke with on the Kolzig subject back in April put it best: “I love Olie Kolzig,” he told me, “but I love winning more.”
Olie’s gone but of course not forgotten. How could he be? These days, we’re just too busy going about the business of following winning. We’re overdue that — and damn it’s fun.

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This entry was posted in Bruce Boudreau, Former Coaches & Players, Jose Theodore, Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Michal Neuvirth, Olaf Kolzig, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to A Name No Longer Mentioned

  1. NuftGoddess says:

    i still love Olie!! As great and exciting as it was to see the new young talent in net, i did miss Zilla’s presence at camp. i look forward to a great season of watching the Caps doing great and making a run for the Cup…but i can’t deny that it won’t seem quite as right without Kolzig being a part of it.

  2. Jendeis says:

    That quote is spot on.

  3. Lee (PTO) says:

    When the Capitals choose to hang his number in the rafters for good, and I think they should, I will be there to show my gratitude for what he gave this franchise and city. I think we owe him that, and if anyone has been around long enough to remember, say, a 52-save effort against the Red Wings that resulted in a 2-2 tie, you know where I’m coming from. This guy used to be incredible and he was a critical part of the Capitals organization for a long time. Don’t let last spring sour your opinion of him…

  4. b.orr4 says:

    I get where you’re coming from P&B, but Olie brought this on himself when he said he wouldn’t accept a backup role with the Caps, then went out and took one with Tampa Bay. Fans have long memories when it comes to slights ( i.e. Johnny Damon going to the Yankees) and what Olie did was a proverbial slap in the face to everyone associated with the Caps. But beyond harboring grudges, fans also love winners. Sadly, while he was a very good goalie for a lot of years, Olie never won anything here in DC(and by anything, I mean the Cup). Had he pulled it off in ’98, Olie’s departure would be noticed a lot more. However, probably the biggest reason for the lack of angst over Olie in a Bolts uniform is the presence of Alex Ovechkin. I don’t know about others, but watching him play for just five minutes makes me forget about the past (and over-the-hill goalies) and just dream about the future.

  5. 'Meh' about OFB says:

    None of the players and coaches mentioned Olie? Really? Are you sure about that? I watched some of the video from the first couple days and it seemed like every player (and Boudreau) was asked at least one question about Olie. I was in the stands for the ROOKIE GAME and people within five feet of me had a conversation about Olie and whether or not any of these young guys will be as good as him.

  6. strungout says:

    Who?

  7. @ Meh: Well obviously Olie is being talked about by some — like this article, for instance. But his name (and his absence) isn’t dominating folks’ minds as much as many may have expected. Even your example of fans in the stands mentioning Olie shows that, rather than bemoaning Kolzig’s departure as the end of the world, the fans were discussing the young guys’ future potential.
    The Capitals organization and its fans are looking forward — and that’s a good thing.

  8. KK says:

    Correction, folks are talking about him in the stands at Kettler. He is, and will always be, my favorite hockey player. He did so much for this team and even though he’s “the enemy” now in TB we should still respect him for everything he brought to this team during his time. Olaf Kolzig is a class act, always will be. He’s missed dearly.

  9. Shaggy says:

    I view Olie’s departure like Peter Bondra’s: heart wrenching, yet completely self inflicted. I don’t know what more you can say that if you love the Caps, you loved Bonzai and Zilla – HOW they left the team leaves a very bad taste and forever tarnishes those awesome memories.

  10. pepper says:

    Indeed, spot on.
    Olie represents to me the “relentless work-ethic but constantly fall short” Caps of the past.
    I enjoyed watching him play and, for a time, felt very confident in our goaltending. Not so much the last few seasons.

  11. Muddapucker says:

    Ollie is a first class person who treated business in the same manner he treats friendship. He was a loyal trooper, right up to the end. He kept his personal feelings for the most part bottled up during the “run” and the playoffs to himself for the good of the team.
    As did BJ, for that matter…
    Its just that Ollie expected to be treated the way he treated the Caps… It doesn’t work that way. It can’t work that way. As tough as it is to part company, sometimes it has to be done for the good of the team.
    More people admire Ollie and what he did for the Caps then he will ever know or even suspect. I for one, remember his personal commitment to the Caps during the rebuilding years. There was personal commitment to the max, unequaled by very few.
    As a result, there are very few that will ever command the respect and admiration that Ollie does from Cap fans. We owe him, we always will. Put Ollie down as one of the great all time Caps on my list.
    Its too bad that business sometimes conflicts with loyalty and friendship. It doesn’t seem right. But then again… maybe there will be a day when things can be made right and Ollie can be recognized for what he has done for the organization.

  12. Hey OFB, not Olie related but I think everyone should know you can watch the game tonight through the Carolina Hurricanes website, much like we will tomorrow night for the Caps.
    http://nhl.hurricanes.com
    Great article on Olie btw. He is one of my favorite Caps but I agree with the sentiment of I love winning more.

  13. SpartyCuse says:

    Would the Caps have brought him back, though? Lets pretend the locker room nameplate thing never happens, and Olie is a quiet soldier.
    Obviously they have BJ under contract, and mgmt has decided/seen that Olie is no longer a #1. The Caps still pursue Huet/Jose in the offseason to be the #1. If you re-sign Olie, you are back to the 3 goalie logjam, and its easier to not sign Olie, than it is to trade BJ.
    So I think that once the decision was made that Olie could not be a #1, since BJ is a good and cheap backup, Olie was gone, no matter what he said or did.

  14. pgreene says:

    the kolzig thing really made me realize something i’d denied before–i truly root for the TEAM first. i believed whole heartedly that it was the players i was rooting for. then kono left, and i survived. then bondra left, which i thought would kill my caps love forever, and i survived. then kolzig, nothing. honestly, i felt nothing for him, other than maybe a slight tinge of remorse that he couldn’t win the big one here.
    ask me 5 years ago, i’d have said the ‘laundry’ theory of sports fandom was pure cynicism and callous inhumanism. now, not so much.

  15. Come to think of it the name will be mentioned again.
    It will go something like “Backstrom to Ovechkin, he shoots scores! Alex just put that past Olie’s glove hand for a beautiful goal!” – Joey B

  16. I’ve never been a Caps fan (grew up in Toronto and now live in California) but I’ve always been a fan of Kolzig for all the reasons listed in comments from others. Check that, I was a Caps fan for one spring when they made their run to the finals but I only cheered for them b/c of Kolzig. This type of thing happens to good guys in every sport and those involved always say the same thing “it’s tough but (insert sport here) is a business”. Successful businesses don’t hold on to to employees for too long if they can do better with someone else, it’s just the nature of the bottom line. I sure hope #37 hangs in the rafters one day… I’d fly to DC just to be a part of the love shown for Olie that night.

  17. Lee (PTO) says:

    Would it be complete heresy to wish for an Olie shutout on 11/10 when he comes back to our barn for the first time in an enemy jersey? Just one last sip of glory in our building before he rides off into the sunset?
    Here’s another interesting question… does he make it into the HoF? : ]

  18. b.orr4 says:

    @Lee-in answer to your question, yes it would be heresy. As someone mentioned earlier, you root for the team first, the player second. And the only way Olie is getting into the HoF is if he buys a ticket.

  19. topshelf_22304 says:

    No…no HoF for Olie. He spent too many of his years playing on mediocre teams in a non-hockey market to ever get serious HoF consideration.
    On another note, I really feel for Olie. Olie is to the Caps what Ripken was the Orioles, or what Darrell Green was to the Redskins. Imagine the fall-out of running either of those two out of town? He stood by the Caps during the prime of his career and made a commitment to them when he could have moved on and genuinely competed for a Cup. The Caps treatment of him last season was terrible, even if it was obvious that he wasn’t a #1 goalie and had to be let go. The only reason the fanbase is not moaning and groaning about it is because we’re blinded by Ovi-mania and a potential SC contender to really care. He deserved a better send-off.

  20. Jeff J says:

    Can you believe it’s been five months already?


  21. I think 19 of the 20 comments so far were of the caliber I’d hoped for: thoughtful. Olie certainly was very much a company man, year in and year out. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with reminding that through some of the toughest years (rebuilding), he was particularly well compensated. In other words, the Caps made good by him.

  22. Murshawursha says:

    I feel like Olie dug his own grave. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great person and I hope someday his number is in the rafters. But the only reason, IMO, that this was such a mess, was that Olie’s ego wouldn’t let him realize he’s simply over the hill and not a no. 1 goalie anymore. His save percentage was THE WORST among starters in the NHL and worse than most backups. With numbers like that, I don’t see how he can argue the deadline move. And given that Boudreau stated he was going to play the hot hand, I fail to see how he can complain about sitting the last seven games. Huet didn’t lose, simple as that. You don’t bench a guy on a streak like that.
    All that said, I would’ve liked to have seen Olie start in game 3 of the playoffs. I do think he deserved at least that much.

  23. Harry0 says:

    I wonder what our thoughts would be if Kolzig said during the rebuilding phase: “I like the Caps, but I like winning better – I’m outta here.”
    Don’t knock the guy or belittle his contributions to the Capitals organization by saying you like winning better – that’s pretty damn shallow.
    Kolzig left the Caps because of a disagreement with management and business is business. So let’s focus on his incredible contributions to the Capitals organization, community, and fans and wish him and his family the best of success in the future.

  24. Flying Cloud says:

    Many professional athletes, like certain politicians, seem to lack an exit strategy. This is a shame, it’s probably something teams should be more concerned about. I miss Kolzig (I miss Bondra, Callie and Hunter too) and I hope the fans give him a sincere welcome when he comes onto our ice in November. Then, of course, I hope we win. It would be nice if he returns here in retirement and remains part of the hockey community. Fans listened to him, he was always a good ambassador for the sport. And Washington’s not a bad place to live, if you like hockey!

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