By Corey Parkinson
My recent article focused on Peter Bondra’s conspicuously missing #12 in the banners hanging high in Capital One Arena. Today, let’s take a look at another Capitals legendary player who has done more than enough to see his number raised and retired.
Kolzig: All-Time Capitals Great
Olaf Kolzig, or as Capitals fans know him, “Olie the Goalie,” is one of the most popular players in Capitals history. During the franchise’s 30th Anniversary season, the fans voted Kolzig the greatest player in franchise history – beating out Caps legends like Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Rod Langway, and Calle Johansson. So, why hasn’t his famous #37 been raised to the rafters alongside the likes of Yvon Labre, Langway, Gartner, and Hunter?
The Washington Capitals drafted Olaf Kolzig in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. He played just two games in the 1989-90 NHL season, and was then sent to the minors for several years. It was there that he established himself as a rising goalie with a quick glove hand and incredible agility. Kolzig won the AHL Playoff MVP award and the Hap Holmes Memorial Award in 1994. Kolzig got a few more NHL call-ups in the ensuing seasons – and during the 1995-96 season, he was featured 29 times as backup to other Capitals legend Jim Carey.
Olie’s Big Break
He started the 1997-98 season as the backup to newly acquired goalie Bill Ranford, but after an injury to Ranford in the first game of the season, Kolzig finally became the Capitals starting netminder. That season he won 33 games while sporting a 2.20 GAA. In the 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he made history by becoming only the 10th goalie ever to record four shutouts in one postseason. In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals young goalie performed well in Game 1 and Game 3 – only allowing 2 goals in both games. It was in Game 2 and Game 4 where the faster and more experienced Detroit Red Wings wreaked havoc on the young goalie – scoring five goals in Game 2 and four goals in Game 4 to sweep the Capitals.
Vezina Trophy in 2000
Kolzig won the Vezina Trophy for being the league’s top Goalie in 2000 with a record of 41-20-11 and a 2.24 GAA – including five shutouts. From 2000-2003, Kolzig averaged 33 wins – establishing himself among the greats like Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, and Ed Belfour as one of the elite goalies in the NHL.
Olaf Kolzig finished his Capitals career holding almost every franchise record for goalies including career games played (711), career wins (301), career shutouts (35), and career playoff shutouts (6). He finished his Caps tenure with a 2.70 GAA. With all the accolades it’s hard to understand why the organization hasn’t retired the jersey of one of their greatest players. Adding more confusion to the topic is the fact that no Capitals player has worn #37 since Kolzig’s departure after the 2007-08 season.
Farewell to a Washington Legend
During that 2007-08 season, the Washington Capitals acquired goalie Cristobal Huet from Montreal in exchange for a 2009 draft pick. Huet would immediately become the starting goalie and Kolzig wouldn’t start the rest of the season including the Playoffs despite sporting a 2.91 GAA. The acquisition of Huet and lack of playing in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs proved to be the unceremonious farewell for Kolzig. He promptly declared his intention to not re-sign with the team that drafted him 18 years earlier. After signing with Tampa Bay that offseason, Kolzig only played in eight games going 2-4-1 as a backup to Mike Smith before announcing he would miss the rest of the 2008-09 season due to a ruptured tendon in his left bicep. Kolzig was traded to Toronto later that season but would never play for the Maple Leafs. Kolzig retired from the NHL in September 2009.
The Capitals subsequently hired Kolzig to be an Associate Goaltending Coach in 2011, and since then he has moved on to another role in the organization. He was also present when the Caps finally won their first Stanley Cup championship this past June. Franchise Player Alex Ovechkin screamed “Olaf! Olaf!” – summoning Kolzig over on the ice to hold and raise the Stanley Cup. The old adage “time heals all wounds” rings true as “Olie the Goalie” has been a fixture this summer in the majority of the celebratory events surrounding the Caps’ Stanley Cup win.
While his name is not on the Stanley Cup, Kolzig’s presence has been as big to the organization as anyone over the last 40-plus years. If there’s one honor Olaf Kolzig has truly earned it’s to finally have his #37 officially retired and raised in the rafters. Surely, it’s just a matter of when, not if.