Q&A with Caps goalie Olaf Kolzig
Born in South Africa, raised in Canada and developed into an NHL star here in America, Olaf Kolzig has left his mark in the nation's capital.
At 6-foot-3 and more than 220 pounds, the 35-year-old netminder is still an imposing figure for NHL sharpshooters.
In this edition of Facing Off, Kolzig describes the highs and lows of playing in one of the most memorable games in NHL history, discusses the criminal accusations against Rick Tocchet and explains why Capitals teammate Alexander Ovechkin could become the best player ever.
Question from Amber: You broke into the NHL in 1989, but it wasn't until 1995, in your 14th NHL game (eighth start), that you earned a victory. What was it like for you going through that long process?
Answer from Kolzig: [Laughs] Wow, that's a long time to wait for the first win. My biggest problem was the mental part of the game. I struggled with my confidence early on. I would allow a bad goal and it would get to me. I would get down on myself. It took a few years to develop the mental toughness needed to survive in this league.
Q: What do you remember about your first NHL win?
A: It was against the Islanders at our old arena. I just remember it was a huge relief. I allowed two goals, but we won 5-2. Afterwards, I remember thinking that winning is addictive.
Q: Obviously, there are some good memories there, but what can you tell us about the infamous 1996 playoff game against the Penguins that went into a fourth overtime?
A: That game was nuts. I remember in the second overtime period, Joe Juneau had a penalty shot against Ken Wregget, who was replacing [an injured] Tom Barrasso. Joe was such a good scorer, we were sure the game was over, but he hit Wregget right in the logo. It was a bizarre night. Earlier in the game, Mario Lemieux got into a fight and was thrown out of the game. In between periods, we were eating pizza in the dressing room. Guys were dehydrated. I must have lost 10 pounds in sweat alone. My pads weighed a ton by the second overtime. I still don't know how the game winner got past me. [Petr Nedved scored with 45 seconds left in the fourth overtime.]
• Drafted 19th overall in the 1989 NHL entry draft by the Washington Capitals.
• On Nov. 29, 1989, with the Tri-City Americans, he became the first goalie in WHL history to score a goal.
• He was named AHL playoff MVP for the Portland Pirates during 1994 Calder Cup championship season.
• During the 1998 playoffs, he tied an NHL record with four shutouts in one postseason.
• Recorded six straight 25-win seasons from 1997-2003.
• He was awarded the Vezina Trophy in 2000.
• He holds Capitals' franchise record for wins, saves, shutouts and games played.
Q: This year you had another epic battle, this time with the Rangers involving a 15-round shootout. What was that like?
A: It was unbelievable. I had never been at Madison Square Garden for a playoff game, but that's what it felt like. The energy was amazing. The crowd was on its feet almost the entire game. I didn't know it went 15 rounds till after the game.
Q: And they will be replaying that Marek Malik shootout goal for years to come.
A: Thanks for reminding me. The move he made was crazy. At the time, all I could say was, "Are you kidding me? Marek Malik just did that?" The move he made would have scored on anyone. No one would have expected that move, at that time, from him.
Q: As a great competitor, how much do you look back at that magical 1998 season [when] you led the Caps to the Stanley Cup finals?
A: It was a special season. It started in Toronto, and I was penciled in as a backup for Bill Ranford, but when he got hurt, I got the call to start. Things just started feeling good for me. The team was playing well and, with that, came the NHL All-Star Game, which was a thrill. Of course, my first Olympic Games were also that year; it was great going there as an underdog for the German team.
The best part of that year was the playoff run. That was awesome. The team really came together, even though we were swept in the Cup finals by Detroit. I think, to a man, we were not sure if we could beat them, but it didn't feel like a sweep. The first three games were all one-goal games and could have gone either way. Despite not winning the Cup, that was the best year of my career.
Q: The Caps haven't had that level of success since then, despite bringing in high-priced guys like Jaromir Jagr. Why didn't Jagr work out in Washington?
A: I don't know what happened. I guess the game changed compared to when he dominated in Pittsburgh. Teams played smart against him, forwards always backed up the D, coaches planned for him. Jagr put too much pressure on himself; he's an emotional guy and that worked against him.
Q: Knowing the tailspin the franchise went into after the failed Jagr experiment, do you have any resentment toward him?
A: We always got along as teammates. We're both emotional, but I've always tried to lead by example. The dressing room was never divided when Jagr was there, but chemistrywise, it didn't work out. This year, he said he basically quit when he was in Washington, and we all knew that was the case, based on how he was playing. But it's hard to hear him say it while he is in New York having success. I don't think he realized how big an impact his not trying has had on this team. We lost some good players because our team was doing so badly, so that hurts.
Q: One player that may eventually surpass Jagr in terms of NHL dominance is Alexander Ovechkin. Why is this guy so good, so soon?
A: He's one of those rare players. He's any goalie's nightmare, he has a great release, he's dynamic around the puck and his hands are really good. His potential is really limitless. The thing about him is, he is way tougher than anyone thinks. I've seen him run over players when he has the puck. He has a great attitude. Most European players don't interact much at first, but he requested to room with a Canadian player on the road so he could learn the language and the culture.
Q: What about you? Who is your roommate on the road?
A: I room with Jeff Halpern, and his nickname is Booger. I'll let you come up with your own conclusion on that one [laughs].
Q: As the elder statesman on the team, do you have to make a conscious effort to help the younger players like Ovechkin feel more comfortable with the older guys?
A: Alex is pretty good. He doesn't shy away. I remember 10 of us went to dinner one night in Buffalo, and after the meal we were all ready to divvy up the check when Alex said, "Let's play the credit card game," where the guy whose credit card is picked last has to pay for the whole meal. And the bill was pretty big, and wouldn't you know, it was Alex picking up the tab for all of us. He looked like somebody had shot his dog afterwards; he couldn't believe it was his idea and he lost [laughs]. He is so competitive, he hates to lose, especially since we never let him forget it.
Q: Last month, you signed a two-year contract extension with the Caps. You were slated to become an unrestricted free agent. Why did you want to stay in Washington?
A: Going into the season, I wanted to take a wait-and-see approach and then make a decision. We have really come together as a team lately; it may not show in the standings, but we are really close and the chemistry is great. The Caps have been good to me, and I like the direction the team is going. You can go to whatever team pays you the most money, but you have to weigh everything. This team has salary-cap room and a young star in Ovechkin, so this was a good fit for me to stay.
Q: You have always given a lot of your time and energy to different charitable organizations. Why have you been so involved?
A: Ultimately, as a human being, I'll be judged on the things I do off the ice. As professional athletes, we're in a position to make a difference, so I embrace being able to do events at the children's hospital. Obviously, having a son who is autistic has helped me get involved with these groups.
Q: You are the founder of the Carson Kolzig Foundation, named after your son, and are active in supporting Athletes Against Autism. What message can you spread about autism?
A: I don't really have a message. Really, I'm hoping to create awareness. One in 166 kids is diagnosed with some form of autism. I just hope we can continue to fund research to help these kids and their families. Autism changes lives. It changes the family dynamic and is really stressful for those family members dealing with the disorder. People don't know a lot about the disorder; they usually think of the movie "Rain Man." But they need to know these kids are special kids and can excel just like anyone else.
Q: Last year, you and former junior teammate Stu Barnes bought your former major junior team, the Tri-City Americans, keeping the team in Kennewick, Wash. Why did you get involved?
A: We wanted to make sure the team didn't leave. We know how important the Americans are in that community. As well, all I've ever done my whole life is be in hockey; I always want to be involved, not as a coach or GM, but on the business side of things. At some point, my playing career will be done, and to be able to stay in the game at the grassroots level is a great opportunity for me.
Q: You just played in your third Olympic Games for Germany. Everyone picked Team Canada to win gold in Torino. How shocked were you with what happened to them?
A: I wasn't overly shocked. I think people don't give the rest of the countries enough credit. That's just the way hockey is in the world right now. There is so much parity in the NHL and in international hockey, as well, at least with the top six countries. I grew up in Canada, so I was cheering for them, but I also respect the guys like Mats Sundin and Nik Lidstrom and the Swedish team. There are a lot of great teams out there.
Q: Right before the Olympics, news broke about pending criminal charges surrounding Rick Tocchet. What was your reaction?
A: It's kind of a touchy subject; I know Tock pretty well. It's not just hockey; in every sport, guys have vices, some guys like to gamble, whatever they want to do, whether they bet on football or basketball, that's fine. It's not betting on hockey. The only thing that's a problem is the accusation that organized crime is involved -- that's the biggest thing. I hope things work out for the best, 'cause he's a great guy and it's too bad that this has happened to him.
Q: Once the news broke, did someone have to talk to the players and warn them to be careful what they're doing?
A: Well, yeah, I think that's just natural. We have a young team here and guys aren't really gambling. We play cards on the plane, but it's for minuscule stakes and it's not really an issue for our team. Here, it's not a concern.
David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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