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Kolzig Arrives and—Wham!—Instant Shutout

By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 1998; Page D1

NAGANO, Feb. 9—Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig was on a plane somewhere over Japan this afternoon when his German national team was blown out by Belarus, 8-2, preventing it from advancing to the main draw of the Olympic hockey competition.

"I found out after we landed at the airport; I saw the score on Japanese TV," Kolzig said shortly after arriving here by train. "Itís disappointing. I made this whole trip basically for nothing."

Germany is one of eight teams in the three-game preliminary round, which started on Saturday. Only two of those teams, one from each four-team pool, advance to the main draw, which already includes the top six hockey powers, among them Canada, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Assisted by Franceís win over Japan, Belarus clinched the Pool B title with the win over Germany. Belarus will close out preliminary-round competition against Japan on Tuesday, when Germany will play France. The Germans then will conclude their participation in a consolation game on Thursday.

With NHL players competing in the Olympics for the first time, Germany expected a major boost from Kolzig, Colorado Avalanche defenseman Uwe Krupp and San Jose Sharks forward Marco Sturm. But because the NHL did not begin its two-week break until Sunday, tonight was the earliest players were able to arrive here. By then it was too late for Germany.

Slovakia and Kazakhstan remain alive in Pool A. They will play each other Tuesday, with the winner advancing to the main draw. Capitals right wing Peter Bondra, who also arrived here tonight, is hoping to play in that game, although Slovak coach Jan Sterbak has not determined his final roster yet. Capitals right wing Richard Zednik, also here to compete for Slovakia, will not play Tuesday.

"I am feeling great; my luck is so good I could get out there tonight," Bondra said when asked if he was too tired to play so soon after making the 20-hour journey from Washington to Nagano. "I loved this trip. The plane service was the best Iíve had."

After the loss to Belarus, German Coach George Kingston criticized the NHL for neither breaking a few days earlier nor letting players on preliminary-round teams leave their NHL teams early. Players on teams already in the main draw also arrived in Japan today, and their first games are on Friday.

Kolzig did not even play in the Capitalsí game against Tampa Bay on Saturday; Bill Ranford got a turn in net. Kolzigís last start was on Wednesday, but he was not granted permission to leave Washington early.

"Olaf Kolzig would have been a big factor if he was allowed to be here," Kingston said. "Heís one of the finest hockey players in the National Hockey League at the goalie position. The National Hockey League is in business; theyíre not necessarily in sport. The Olympics are about sport."

Kingston was particularly angry that Mighty Ducks of Anaheim defenseman Ruslan Salei played for Belarus today, scoring a goal. Just before the Olympic break, Salei earned a two-game suspension from the NHL for head-butting another player. So, the Mighty Ducks allowed him to travel to Japan earlier than the other NHL players.

"The competitive advantage that has happened here, thatís unfair," Kingston said. "Whatís the lesson to players? Get suspended? The International Ice Hockey Federation has to put some spine in, some rules in. Whatís Latrell Sprewell doing? Is he playing in the Continental Basketball Association?"

NHL spokesman Arthur Pincus noted that Salei played for Belarus because "our rules donít govern what can happen in international play." He also said the NHL could not have expanded its Olympic break by a few days to accommodate the preliminary-round teams because "we wouldnít have enough time to get our own games in. There was no way that could have happened."

Despite Germanyís elimination, Kolzig said he still wants to play on Tuesday or Thursday. He brought a video camera with him and is making a video diary of his trip.

When asked what he thought of Kingstonís comments, Kolzig said: "I think I agree. Teams like Slovakia and Germany are not exactly hockey powerhouses. They need all the help they can get. If you look at the way this is set up, itís basically catered to the big six [teams already in the main draw], but what can you do?"

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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