Making the Case For Godzilla

Scott ZweibelContributor IOctober 14, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - FEBRUARY 06: Olaf Kolzig #37 of the Washington Capitals defends his net against the Philadelphia Flyers on February 6, 2008 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Caps defeated the Flyers 4-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Over the course of 17 professional seasons, goaltender Olaf “Olie” Kolzig stood in net as one of the NHL’s largest figures. Nicknamed “Godzilla” for his imposing size, Olaf Kolzig retired this summer after a long and successful career. He played all but eight of his NHL games as a Washington Capital. Kolzig retired holding almost every Washington franchise record for goaltending.

Instead of trying to justify a Hall of Fame bid, I choose instead to lobby the Washington Capitals ownership to retire his number, and allow the fans to honor Olaf Kolzig.

For his career, “Olie the Goalie” posted a 2.71 goals against average, and a .906 save percentage. He appeared in 711 games as a Capital, posting 301 wins and 35 shutouts. Drafted in 1989 (first Round, 19th overall), Kolzig stands as the highest drafted goalie in franchise history.

In 1989 Olie Kolzig saw his first NHL action. Almost 19 years later, as the face of the franchise was changing, he made his last start in a 5-0 loss to Chicago on March 19th, 2008. With less than a puff of smoke, Godzilla’s fire-breathing stomp through team history was done.

Olie Kolzig took over the reigns as the everyday starter in 1997-98. Over the course of his career Kolzig backstopped very few “good” teams, and none that hockey pundits would call “great.” He often spent long stretches keeping his teams in games and on some nights single-handedly winning them outright.

During his career, Kolzig’s Capitals made the Stanley Cup finals once. It was 1997-98, his first season as a true starter. He had assumed the job at the beginning of the year as injuries sidelined Bill Ranford. As a member of a very good Edmonton Oilers team, Ranford had played a fair share of important playoff games. But it was Kolzig who never relinquished the starter’s role, and vaulted the Capitals into the Finals, eventually falling short to Detroit.

Kolzig spent most of his career flying under the radar, which was some feat for such a big man. He only won a single Vezina Trophy (in 1999-2000), and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy (in 2005-06). He was voted to the All-Star game twice, in 1998 and 2000. During his career, Kolzig was a steady presence in the Washington net, only missing 18 games due to injury up until the 2007 season when he lost much of that year to a knee injury.

During the era in which Kolzig played, he was often overshadowed by the accolades and careers of other goalies. Kolzig posted consistent seasons from 1997 through 2007 playing an average of 60 games per year. During that stretch Kolzig maintained a 2.52 average GAA, and a save percentage over .900 (which over a career are pretty impressive numbers). However, in that time period goaltending was revolutionized by the emergence and dominance of Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour, and Martin Brodeur. Those names are legendary between the pipes, but in the hockey circles of Washington DC, Olie Kolzig is the legend.

For the most part Kolzig was not a spectacular or flashy netminder, just a large well-positioned presence. Early in his career, Kolzig was feisty, easily goaded, and almost angry at times. He broke a lot of goalie sticks. As his career moved along, he became noticeably calmer and rarely over-reacted to bad goals or defensive breakdowns.

Olie Kolzig also had a lot of fun on the ice, and famously “fought” with best friend and Boston Bruins goalie Byron Dafoe once during a blow-out. That fight was more laughs than jabs, and highlighted the type of gentle giant Kolzig really was.

Off the ice, Olaf Kolzig was a model family man. He and his wife participated in a variety of charities, and helped to found Athletes Against Autism. Kolzig’s son, Carson is autistic, and is also the namesake of the Carson Kolzig Foundation dedicated to raising resources and awareness for Autism. Thanks to his family and foundation work, Olie Kolzig won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2005-06.

As pro athletes go, Kolzig was very approachable. I ran into him once during the summer of 2000. While working in Washington, D.C. and walking to lunch, I literally bumped into Olie while he waited for his wife to finish up in a store. He was friendly and eager to talk hockey to a fan. Being a goalie myself, and revering the man for his skills, he helped diffuse my awe with his humor and offered this advice via autograph, “Never Lose Sight of Your Goals.” I liked the hockey play-on-words, and I never stopped thinking about Olie’s dedication to the game, his family, and his team.

For the better part of two decades, and many years at a “home-town discount” Kolzig sought hockey’s ultimate prize. He never got his name on the Stanley Cup, and no Capitals team was good enough to afford him Hall of Fame career numbers. The least our community could do for Kolzig is let him know we appreciated his dedication to us.

So, for the Capitals ownership, management, and fan base, it is time to retire Kolzig’s number 37. He may have retired from hockey only weeks ago, but such a large presence in Washington has to be honored. Although the marriage did not end well (Cristobal Huet was acquired and carried Washington to a surprising division win and playoff berth in 2007-08) this must be done.

The Washington Capitals are a franchise with little to celebrate over the past 35 years. Regardless of how his Capitals career ended, we need to honor the body of work and his significance to the team. Let everyone who believes in hard work and dedication make this plea to the Capitals.

Today we are rewarded with a franchise on the rise. Almost every game brings sell-out crowds at Verizon Center and there is buzz around our growing fan base. We’ve got Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, and other budding super stars. The hockey pundits now call the Capitals “The Next Big Thing.” However, we don’t have Olie. His spirit seems gone. His type of "glue" in the locker room and aura of steady leadership needs to return.

I am assured that the true Washington Capitals fans will pass on Kolzig's legacy. However, the team needs to remember his hard work and dedication (every night). This franchise should be looking to repay a man who never left for what he deserved. Some things just have to be done. Otherwise, no matter how well the Capitals do on the ice, something will be missing in the rafters.