While politicians may come and go, there has been one constant in our nation's capital over the last 15 years, and his name is Olaf Kolzig. In a town where football reigns supreme, "Olie the Goalie" is the longest-tenured athlete in Washington, D.C.
Sure, the 6'3", 220 lb. goaltender has been a mainstay in the Washington Capitals net seemingly forever, but he makes a name for himself off the ice too - receiving countless awards such as the NHL's 2006 King Clancy Award for on- and off-ice leadership. Fortunately, we were able to catch up with Kolzig and talk about locker-room pranks, his legendary temper, athletes as role models and more.
For those who don't know, where are you originally from and where do you call home during the offseason?
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, but now I live in Kennewick, Washington.
How early did you start playing hockey and how old were you when you started playing goalie?
I was four years old when I started playing hockey. I was about 11 when I first started playing goalie.
When did you first think you might be able to make it at the pro level?
I didn't until I got drafted. I just went and played junior hockey and was going to give it a shot. If it didn't work out I was going to go to school, but then I got drafted and thought, "Hey, I might be able to do this for a living."
In 1989 you were selected 19th overall by the Washington Capitals. Do you remember what your reactions were to being drafted in the first round, and ending up in a town that wasn't necessarily known for hockey?
I was ecstatic for both. I didn't know at the time that Washington wasn't necessarily a hockey town. My first three years here the town was terrific. We were a competitive team and were in the playoffs every year, so the crowds were great. It's dropped off a little bit, but I think that's coming back now that the team is getting better.
What does it take to be a successful goalie in the NHL?
A commitment to working hard. It's not just you make the NHL and that's it. You have to work at your craft, so to speak. You have to keep learning new things and be true to the fundamentals - work on them every day, so that when it's game time it becomes automatic. Pressure situations don't affect you as much as guys who decide to fly by the seat of their pants.
Every time the league makes a rule change it works against goalies. They want more scoring and flashy plays, and you guys pay for it. How much tougher is it after the league cracked down on goalie pads and continually changes the rules in hopes of creating more offense?
Well, you know going into a game that the scoring chances are going to be increased and that your goals against average is going to be higher. You have to go into it with that attitude and basically tell yourself you want to give your team a chance to win the game whether you make that save when it's 1-0 or 7-6. Statistics now are kind of out the window and it's more about wins and losses. Obviously it's a little tougher for goalies, but now it's time to see who are the true goaltenders out there now. It's not about pads or defensive systems, but who are the true goalies? That's what these new rules are going to unveil.
One thing that sets goalies apart from other players is their distinctive masks. What's the story behind your Godzilla mask and who came up with the design?
I got it when I played in the minors in Rochester, New York. Back then I was a big guy with a bit of a temper, I still do - but not as much. But I was a big guy who played with a lot of passion and a lot of fire on the ice and was having a lot of success in Rochester. I came to the rink one day and the fans had a sign that said "Nobody beats Godzilla," and it stuck ever since. It took me a few years to get the design down, but I finally got it down and I've had it on my mask for probably 10 years now.
During your storied career, you've seemingly done it all. You've set nearly every Caps record possible, you won the Vezina Trophy in 2000, played in the Olympics, World Cup and even Stanley Cup Finals. How on Earth have you been able to stick around this long and play at such a high level?
Like I said earlier, I keep working hard in the summer and continually try to make myself better and better. I'm a very competitive guy and I enjoy the game. I think having all of those attributes keeps me competitive year in and year out. I still see myself playing for another three years after this. So until they tell me I can't play anymore, or that I'm not competitive anymore, I'm going to keep doing it.
Two years ago you had to face longtime teammate Peter Bondra when he played in Atlanta and this season former Caps captain Jeff Halpern returned as a member of the Dallas Stars. I know hockey is a business, but what's it like playing against old friends and teammates?
It's tough, but over the last couple years I've kind of grown immune to it. We've had a lot of turnover here, and I've lost a lot of good friends. But that's the nature of the business, and they're always only a phone call or email away. So it's not like they're that far away. It's just part of sports these days. It doesn't mean I'm not going to be friends with them or lose touch with them. They're just not going to be part of this team right now.
Along the same lines, how important is it for you to play your entire career here in Washington?
There have been some question marks about that these last couple years because of the rebuilding that's going on here. But I committed myself last year and was really optimistic about where this organization is going and the kind of players we have here. I thought that getting traded might give me a better shot to win the Stanley Cup in the short term, but at the same time you lose that stature that you've established with one team.
You go to a new team and even though you're a veteran you have to get to know all new guys and you're lower on the totem pole. With my comfort level here I didn't really want to go through that. I thought there wouldn't be a better story than starting and finishing my career with one team and winning the Stanley Cup. So I'm trying to give myself an opportunity here with my team the next three or four years to win the Cup. Ultimately that would be the best scenario.