Olaf Kolzig, pro development coach for the Washington Capitals, has a long history with the organization, one that started when they drafted him in 1989. He played just under four years in the AHL at the start of his career for Baltimore, Portland and Rochester, before having a successful 14-year run with the Caps and wrapping up his playing time with Tampa Bay, one season before retiring.
“The time I spent in the AHL was probably the reason I had a fairly successful NHL career,” Kolzig said. “I think more teams are realizing that now by drafting high-profile players who are starting their pro time in the AHL. It’s very important they start their careers at this level because it sets them up for better success in the NHL.
“The situations are similar to the NHL, but there isn’t as much pressure,” continued Kolzig. “One of those things is the guys are on their own for the first time and becoming a man and that makes the transition to the NHL much easier.”
Kolzig holds the Washington franchise’s goaltending records for Games Played (711), Wins (301), Loses (293) and Shutouts (35).
He posted those numbers despite several serious injuries along the way, that included having both hips redone, numerous knee surgeries, along with torn biceps and tendons and a blown out shoulder, meaning all together he went under the knife more than a dozen times.
Despite all that, he indicated he felt fortunate, but pointed out these days guys are playing even longer because of the way they take care of their bodies.
When questioned about the highlight of his career he was quick to reply, “It was the ’97-98 season when the Caps went to the Stanley Cup Finals and lost to Detroit in four games but it really was closer than it sounds. We thought at that time we would be back at some point, but little did we know the Caps organization wouldn’t get back until two years ago when we finally won the Stanley Cup.”
Kolzig, who will turn 50 on April 6, said when he retired he wanted to spend time with his kids, and he did that for two years, then realized something was missing and he wanted to get back in the game.
“I had a contact with someone in Washington who knew about my wanting to get back, so he set up a meeting that resulted in me getting hired as an associate goalie coach,” said Kolzig. “I did that for five years, then became the pro development coach which is what I’m doing now.
“Both jobs are satisfying, but I think helping the kids transition to the pro game is important because they are coming from college and European hockey, and that’s a big step,” Kolzig continued. “If I had somebody like that when I started I feel the transition would’ve been a lot easier. I wouldn’t say this job is more satisfying, it’s just more vital to help them make the transition.”
His job description as the development coach includes helping the players coming from other countries. That doesn’t mean he teaches them English, because the club has others to do that, and communication is so important in the game especially for goalies.
“People don’t realize how tough it is in everything that happens when you leave your native country and language,” Kolzig stated. “The same goes when our guys go to Europe but the big difference is they usually have a few other English-speaking guys on those teams and coaches who have been over here and can communicate with them.
“That’s not usually the way it is over here where they don’t have any friends they can spend time with off the ice,” added Kolzig. “It is really easier to learn English than Russian or German, or some of the other languages, and it becomes a real learning situation for the guys who go over there to play.”
Away from the game Kolzig is active in various charities that started when his one son, who recently turned 19, was diagnosed with autism at 15 months.
“We started the Carson Kolzig Foundation for Youth Autism in 2005 then branched off to start the Athletes Against Autism campaign,” Kolzig said. “I feel it is vital for pro athletes to give back because we are so fortunate to be able to play a game that so many others can’t do.
“We have a platform to make an impact,” Kolzig added. “The contacts you make as an athlete certainly helps over time to do so much good in helping to raise funds for charity. That makes it a win-win arrangement for everyone.”