Even in Lightning Clothing, Olie Kolzig Deserves Red-Carpet Treatment Upon Return to District

Olie Kolzig
Olie Kolzig (By Steve Nesius -- Associated Press)
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By Mike Wise
Monday, November 10, 2008

Before he cemented his identity as Washington's goaltender for parts of three decades -- before the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, the Vezina Trophy in 2000 or any memory of the Capitals -- Olaf Kolzig was a kid in junior hockey, trying to make a name for himself in front of family on his first trip home to Vancouver Island.

The only problem was, this annoying gnat of a player kept buzzing the crease, getting in the teenager's face -- until the young goalie finally dropped his gloves and squared off against Len Barrie.

The same Len Barrie who partnered with an investment group to purchase the Tampa Bay Lightning this past summer.

"I can say I won the fight," Kolzig said, laughing. "But who knew 21 years later Lenny was going to be my boss?"

You play more than half of your life, hockey becomes a small world.

Olie the Goalie comes home tonight, to the franchise that drafted him 19 years ago, to the city where he minded the net for 16 seasons.

For longtime Capitals loyalists, Verizon Center is going to have the same awkward feel of Patrick Ewing returning to Madison Square Garden in a green-and-gold Sonics uniform. Watching Olie grab his water bottle off the back of the visitor's net is essentially being from Green Bay and having no idea what to feel when Brett Favre drops back for the Jets.

Endings are often cruel in sports, even for the iconic athletic figures. After Michael Jordan's messy departure, no town knows that better than Washington. But Jordan was just passing through. Olie was part of the landscape, much more than one of the greatest goaltenders of his era.

He co-founded Athletes Against Autism and the Carson Kolzig Foundation for Youth Autism, to help encourage more research and awareness in honor of his son, who is afflicted with autism.

For two decades it didn't matter whether the Caps were god-awful bad or Stanley-Cup-run good; Olie was the franchise the way Darrell Green was the Washington Redskins for an NFL-record 20 seasons.

Think about it: Olie played goalie for the Capitals organization nine years longer than Jon Jansen, at 10 years the longest-tenured pro football player in Washington, has played right tackle for the Redskins. He started as a Capital four years longer than Wes Unseld wore his Bullets uniform and four years longer than Jaime Moreno has lined up corner kicks for D.C. United. After Green, no one comes close to Olie for longevity in Washington.

Kolzig deserved a better ending than a benching at the end of last season and an eventual divorce from the club, and so did the people who saw him intimidate with his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame all those years, crouching purposefully as he cleared the crease of players and pucks. Everyone deserved better than seeing Olie the Goalie skate slowly around the ice by himself after the Capitals' wrenching Game 7 loss to Philadelphia in last spring's first round. He stayed long after everyone had gone to the locker room and cups and pizza boxes flew from angry Caps fans, because he knew it was over.

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