Kolzig Is the Capitals' Stay-at-Home Goalie

Goaltender Olie Kolzig is starting his 18th year in the Caps' organization.
Goaltender Olie Kolzig is starting his 18th year in the Caps' organization. "Washington gave me my opportunity and stuck with me when I was coming up," Kolzig said. (Mitchell Layton - Getty Images)
By George Solomon
Sunday, September 30, 2007

The pucks come fast at the goaltender. Real fast. Hard, too. Alex the Great. Michael Nylander, Alexander Semin, Chris Clark and the rest. Zing, ping, crack. Off the pipes, the glass, the goalies' pads. Off the side of the knee. Ooooh, that one stings.

Capitals practice, Friday morning, at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington.

Olie Kolzig, 37, is dressed in black, his body almost completely protected by bulky pads, his face covered by that cool mask. He's beginning his 18th year in the Caps' organization.

Kolzig might not be Cal Ripken -- he missed 13 games last season with a knee injury -- but his numbers are impressive. Nine seasons as the Caps' regular goaltender, 702 games in goal overall. A regular season winning percentage of slightly better than .500, and just as important, two major NHL awards for community service.

"It's rare an athlete plays his entire career with one team, but Washington gave me my opportunity and stuck with me when I was coming up and not what they call a top-end prospect," Kolzig said. "Playing with one team my whole career, that's something I'd like to hang my hat on."

Consider the longevity of other vets in town: Tackle Jon Jansen, currently on the injured list, has logged a Redskins-best nine years; midfielder Ben Olsen has 10 straight with D.C. United, although ageless Jaime Moreno has 11, not counting a 2003 season in purgatory (New Jersey). Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas, the Butch and Sundance of the Wizards, begin their sixth and seventh seasons of what kiddie shrinks would call "parallel play." Alana Beard, who just had shoulder surgery, completed her fourth year with the Mystics, and Brian Schneider, Ryan Church and the Chief are each 18 years behind Walter Johnson in area baseball service.

Of course, we couldn't deal with the subject of service to one team without mentioning Wes Unseld (13 years playing for the Bullets) and Darrell Green, whose 20 years of cornerbacking for the Redskins should surely land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Writer's admission: My campaign to get Art Monk to Canton hasn't exactly taken off.)

But with the Caps opening the season in Atlanta on Friday night, Kolzig and everyone else associated with the team is optimistic that the offseason free agent acquisitions, led by forward Nylander, and the signing of the No. 1 draft pick from 2006, forward Nicklas Backstrom, will propel the Caps into the playoffs after three losing seasons.

"I think we addressed some issues," Kolzig said. "We've added new talent to go with our young guys to improve our attack in a conference that's wide open. It will be exciting."

Exciting and successful enough to attract additional fans to Verizon Center, Caps management hopes. "Our fan base is as die-hard as any in the NHL," Kolzig said. "But you've got to win; most fans have a 'what have you done for me lately' attitude. Now we have as much firepower as we've ever had. If we win, we'll draw the fans."

Nats-Redskins Doubleheader

On the Metro to RFK Stadium last Sunday for the venue's baseball finale, Brian Coyle of Gaithersburg wore a Nationals jersey over a Redskins jersey. "I was at RFK for the first baseball game in 1961, the night the Senators left in 1971, the night the Nationals returned in 2005 and now this," Coyle said proudly. Coyle, who roots for the Nats and Redskins, used to attend Redskins games at RFK but doesn't go to FedEx Field in Landover because "it's a 12-hour day I can do without."

Don't know how many fans left the Nats game that started at noon for the 4:15 kickoff of the Redskins-Giants game at FedEx. But an "I have no life" double was easily doable -- by a 20-minute drive up Central Avenue or Blue Line shot to Morgan Boulevard, that takes less time than trying to tell a friend that Brandon Lloyd is really Taylor Jacobs but wearing a different number.

Observations from the day:

¿ Someone trying to console Manny Acta over losing three tough games to the Phillies got this response from the Nats manager: "Tough? Tough is not managing a ballclub in the major leagues. Tough is working a job like cleaning up the stadium after the game."

¿ Former Senators pitching ace Dick Bosman, now working in personnel for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays: "Walking in here is like walking into a time capsule. It feels so right. I bet the ball Frank Howard lodged in the clock nearly 40 years ago in center field is still stuck in the clock." Bosman threw out the first pitch Sunday, telling me, "I'm very glad they did this."

¿ How cool to see current Nats asking the 71-year-old Howard to autograph souvenir baseballs before the game, with Hondo pointing to several white seats in the upper deck in center field where he once parked mammoth home runs. "Yeah, I hit 'em there, but you see those other 1,500 seats? Those represent all the times I struck out." Worth the trip seeing Ryan Zimmerman escort Howard onto the field before the game, won by the Nats over the Phillies, 5-3, in what Chuck Hinton, another former Senator, called "a super day."

¿ Five hours later, Redskins fans were not calling the day "super." The Redskins blew a 17-3 halftime lead and lost to the desperate Giants, 24-17, despite having a first and goal at the New York 1-yard line with 58 seconds left. The Redskins' failure to tie the game set up 14 days of second guessing (bye week misery) but provided Feinstein material for his next quickie book, "Where Was Clinton?"

Two days later, Portis and WTEM's Brian Mitchell had a testy exchange on Big John Thompson's radio show, with Portis saying he "had no idea" why he wasn't in the game, adding "I don't make those decisions." And Mitchell continuing to wonder with the rest of us.

That left Joe Gibbs to explain: "I coached it; we played it out with our three best plays. We couldn't get it done."

Neither could Maryland's Ralph Friedgen the day before, his Terrapins failing to hold a 24-3 lead late in the third period against Wake Forest before losing in overtime. But seven days later, the Terps stunned No. 10 Rutgers, 34-24, in a huge upset. Who doesn't love college football?

But at least we can now turn our attention to Friday's season opener of "Friday Night Lights" and wonder what meshugas Gilbert Arenas will bring to Wizards training camp in Richmond this week.

Have a comment or question? Reach me attalkback@washpost.com.

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