He's Been Iron in the Pipes

"In one respect, it's easier making it to the NHL than staying in the NHL," says Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig, who for the most part had enjoyed an injury-free career until Monday. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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By George Solomon
Sunday, February 18, 2007

I'm not equating Olie Kolzig's durability with Cal Ripken's streak of 2,632 consecutive baseball games, but the Washington Capitals goalie has earned his stripes with sports fans in Washington, having played in 577 games since 1997 before tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee at practice on Monday.

During the past nine seasons, Kolzig has played more NHL games than other goalie in the NHL besides New Jersey's Martin Brodeur (633). He likely will miss the majority of the Capitals' final 24 games. In all his years with the Capitals, Kolzig has missed only 18 games and never more than four in a row.

"I've been fortunate with my health," Kolzig said in a telephone interview this week. "I've also had luck and take nothing for granted about this job. In one respect, it's easier making it to the NHL than staying in the NHL. There are a lot of one-year phenoms; you have to work at getting better and staying on top of your game."

Kolzig, 36, does not need surgery and will begin rehabbing his knee this week. He has played 648 games since first joining the organization in 1989, 379 more than Don Beaupre, who is No. 2 in games played by a Capitals goalie. Signed through the end of next season, Kolzig, who earns about $5.4 million a year, is active in community causes and would like to finish his career here. With a winning percentage of about .500, Kolzig has helped the rebuilding Capitals remain competitive these past few seasons. He's 19-19-5 this season.

Kolzig has ambitions off the ice. He owns his former junior hockey team (the Tri-Cities Americans in Washington state) with former teammate and current Dallas center Stu Barnes and several businessmen.

"Hockey is my life. I love the game," Kolzig said. But he does not want to coach. "My patience is too low. I like junior hockey. I want to help the game grow, help kids. Make a difference."

'Big Jim' Had a Presence

Washington lost an athletic patriarch when James "Big Jim" Ricca died last Sunday of a brain aneurysm at 79. Ricca played defensive lineman and linebacker for the Redskins from 1951 to '54 after a distinguished college career at Georgetown. He finished his NFL career in 1956 after stints in Detroit and Philadelphia.

But Ricca's heart was in Washington. After his playing days, he sold cars, founded an advertising agency and was the city's first radio sports-talk show host for WNIX-AM. At 6 feet 4 and 270 pounds, he was a "man about town" you couldn't miss.

For 20 years, Ricca was president of the Redskins Alumni Association. He also spent time as an assistant football coach at St. John's (D.C.) and Landon, and as the head coach at Good Counsel. His four children were all good athletes, including a son, John, who played defensive end at Duke and for Orlando of the World Football League.

The next generation of Riccas included two of John's sons quarterbacking at St. John's (D.C.) and a third at St. John's-Prospect Hall in Frederick. They all went on to play in college -- two at Catholic and a third at Hampden-Sydney. John also had two daughters who played college basketball. Another of Jim's sons, Chris, had two sons who played college lacrosse.

"He obviously loved sports," John Ricca said this week. "He was very proud of all the Riccas who played all these sports for all these teams."

Gilbert's World

I can't keep up with Wizards megastar Gilbert Arenas. One day he's betting $20,000 in a three-point shooting contest with DeShawn (who has this kind of money?) Stevenson, the next day he's stinking up Verizon Center in a 21-point loss to lowly Portland and complaining that Coach Eddie Jordan puts too much emphasis on defense. But he made peace with Jordan before helping the Wiz win an important game Wednesday at Philly and heading out to Vegas for the NBA's All-Star Game. We love Gilbert.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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