Washington Capitals goaltender Olie Kolzig is not only one of the best at his position, he's also one of the most outspoken. Kolzig will be revealing his insights on several topics throughout the hockey season.
In the first segment of this series, Kolzig tells staff writer Jason La Canfora how and why he became a goalie and talks about the evolution of his play.
The very first time I played goal I was 4 or 5 years old and I hid behind the net. A guy came down on a breakaway; I was terrified of the puck and hid right behind the net. My folks never thought I'd put the pads on again. Back then everybody took turns playing in net, and obviously my debut wasn't very successful. It's kind of ironic I would end up being in the NHL as a goaltender.
I would say my official debut came about six years later. It just happened. I was playing minor hockey in Toronto and our goalie didn't show up for a game and we needed someone to play net, and I just volunteered. I got a shutout the first game and everybody patted me on the back and told me what a good job I did. I enjoyed the praise then, and it wasn't until I became a scapegoat for the first time that I started to question myself.
From there I just started playing, and when I went to hockey school in the summer I went as a goalie and not a forward. Back then you had tryouts in the spring and I made the team I tried out for. Since then I've always been a goaltender. But for the first six or seven years I played forward and defense, and developed my agility and skating. I think that really helped me as a goalie, because for my size [6 feet 3, 226 pounds] I'm a fairly agile guy and I attribute that to learning to skate properly at an early age.
That's also when I developed my temper. Goalie sticks back then ran about $25 and I went through my fair share. My parents finally decided to buy this new innovation--a quarter-inch rubber piece that went over the blade of your stick. You could smash it on the ice and take a lot of shots on it, and it wouldn't break. But then I learned how to smash my stick over the crossbar. The stick would break right in the middle. No device could prevent that. I've learned to channel that energy better now at age 29. I was an emotional player and still am, but I've learned to control it a lot more.
I've always had the temperament of a power forward; if I got mad I'd go and run somebody in the corner. It was a tough time to deal with that in junior hockey, especially for a goalie. When you grow up playing and you're 13 or 14 years old you don't get fans booing you. The fans give you a lot of support and it's mostly friends and family in the stands. Then it gets tougher.
When you play junior hockey and live away from home in a new environment and go on long road trips into a city where your team is not liked, the fans really get on you. That's where you develop a thick skin. It was tough at first but it didn't take too long to thicken my skin. I remember the worst incident came in Seattle in the [Western Hockey League] playoffs. It even made "SportsCenter." Some fans got into it with players on our bench and threw beers on our coach and some players. I skated over to the bench but didn't really get involved. It was a scary incident--you've got drunk people behind the bench who are not protected and there's some mad hockey players on the ice with hot tempers swinging their sticks at fans. It was a scary time and a lot of us learned from that incident.
Since then, I've learned to give it back to fans on the road. Instead of telling them bleep or whatever, you make a wisecrack and more times than not if it's tastefully done they shut up, and if they don't you just learn to let it go. I think the biggest improvement I've made is my mental toughness. In the minors I really let criticism affect me, whether it was from the coaches or media.
Now, especially going through a year like last year, I basically just tuned everything out--good or bad--because sometimes you can start to think you're playing better than you actually are, and sometimes you can get buried in the paper when you think you don't deserve it. I look at my own game and know where I'm at and if I need to work on something. Now, if people criticize me, it's their business and I know what I'm doing. That's where I've really gotten better--just knowing my game and tuning everything else out.
CAPTION: Capitals' Olie Kolzig hid behind net as a mite on the ice, but at 29 he has cut access to pucks and opponents, including Kings' Bryan Smolinski.