New Capitals goalie coach Olie Kolzig is the first to admit he’s not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to working with Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth.
“Am I going to sit here and tell you I want the toughest goaltending duo in the league?” Kolzig said, referring to his own penchant for dropping the gloves. “No.
“I want the guys we have now to be better and to get this team in the position to compete for the Stanley Cup.
“It’s not going to be an overhaul. Now that they’ve made the NHL they want to have an impact on the NHL.”
Kolzig, 43, replaces Dave Prior, who had held the position the previous 14 years after being hired as the Caps’ first full-time goaltending coach. Prior and Kolzig became close friends over the years and Kolzig said he looked at him as a father figure when his own father passed away in 2005.
“It’s no coincidence my career took off when Dave became a full-time coach here [in 1997-98],” Kolzig said. “We had a great relationship and he got me to channel things in the right direction and refine my game.”
The Capitals are hoping Kolzig can do the same with Holtby, 23, and Neuvirth, 25.
“We're hoping he can do for us what he did the first year he took over as the No. 1 goalie,” Caps general manager George McPhee said, “and get us to the finals in Year 1.”
McPhee said he admired the way Kolzig turned himself into one of the NHL’s most consistent netminders during his 10 years as the Caps’ starter, a stretch in which he won a Vezina Trophy and played in two All-Star Games.
“He may have been one of the least talented No. 1 goalies in the league for a while,” McPhee said, “but he got by on sheer willpower and strength and his soul and playing the game right. …There are some [former] players who can't coach because the game came to them too easy and they don't know how to explain it. Whereas Olie, he really learned it.”
“I don’t take that as an insult at all,” Kolzig said with a laugh. “I’ve always said I was athletic for my size and took up a lot of net and I wasn’t a technically sound guy. But I had a competitive nature, a great work ethic and I never took days for granted. Even when I became No. 1 I wanted to lead by example, that even though I had success I was still one of the hardest workers on the ice and that I didn’t take a day off.”
Kolzig said that while he’s willing to tweak the technical aspects of Holtby’s and Neuvirth’s games, he believes the mental preparation of both goalies is equally important to the success of the Capitals.
“That’s probably what held me back the most [early in his career],” Kolzig said. “I would let things get to me and they’d snowball. It would take me a few shifts to get focused again and by then they’d probably score another goal on me. I’ve yet to meet a goalie that’s had 82 shutouts every year. There are going to be times you make a mistake.”
McPhee said having Kolzig on staff full-time will provide Holtby and Neuvirth with the confidante they need to get through the peaks and valleys of an NHL season.
“You've got to have [mental toughness],” he said. “You've got to be able to be good and be able to stand in there and want to be out there at the most difficult times, when your team's getting pushed back and you're in an opposing building and the fans are all over you and the crowd's with the home team. You've got to have someone who's strong. And that was one of Olie's greatest strengths.”