Monday, December 13, 2004
Kolzig switches positions in return to the ice
By Lindsay Berra Special to ESPN.com
Olaf Kolzig wasn't unemployed for long.
Soon after National Hockey League owners locked out their players, Kolzig, a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender for the Washington Capitals, signed on as the goalie coach of the Western Hockey League's Tri-City Americans. The WHL -- known for long bus trips and bad weather -- was where Kolzig got his start, and Kennewick, Wash., home of the Americans, is where Kolzig, his wife, Christin, and their three children, Carson, Kendall and Ashlyn, make their offseason home.
Kolzig was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to German parents, Axel and Renate Kolzig. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Denmark and then to Edmonton, where Olaf picked up hockey at age 4. Axel's job with Westin Hotels forced the family to move nearly 25 times before Olaf was 18. They hopped from province to province, with Olaf playing hockey all along the way. But young Olie was a defenseman; he didn't play in goal until he was 11 years old and volunteered to fill in when the goalie on his youth team got sick. He hasn't left the crease since.
After leading the WHL with a 3.48 goals-against average in 1989, Kolzig was drafted in the first round, 19th overall, by the Capitals. Despite his success in junior, Kolzig spent the next eight seasons shuttling up and down from the NHL to the AHL and the ECHL, serving 12 stints with seven minor league teams before earning a steady job in Washington in 1997. The next season, with the help of goalie coach Dave Prior, Kolzig became an All-Star.
At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Kolzig had always relied too heavily on his girth. He took cutting down angles to the extreme, consistently camping out a foot in front of the crease which hindered his ability to recover for second and third saves after (and if) he made the original one. Prior moved Kolzig back and helped him with positioning. "Dave refined me to be more economical than aggressive," Kolzig said. "I still try to be intimidating, but I'm more in control around my crease."
So Kolzig knows the difference a good goalie coach can make and what it's like to see years of hard work and patience pay off. In 2000, "Olie the Goalie" won 41 games and posted a 2.24 goals-against average, which earned him Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL.
Now, while the NHL and players' association face off, Kolzig is returning to his Tri-Cities roots. And lucky Tri-City goalie Carey Price gets the chance to learn from the best.
The Magazine's Lindsay Berra can be e-mailed at email@example.com.