Monday, November 10, 2008

Same Faces in Different Places: Kolzig returns to D.C.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are only a Brian Willsie away from assembling the Washington Capitals of 2005-06.

Going back to last years trade deadline, the Lightning have acquired Jeff Halpern, Matt Pettinger, Jamie Heward, and Steve Eminger; all via trade or free agency.

Of these players, only recently acquired Steve Eminger will be in the line-up when both these Southeast Division foes meet on Monday night. However, there is one other familiar face who will make his way back to D.C., and the media attention surrounding his return will be bigger than the game itself.

Never in their wildest dreams would Washington Capitals fans expect to see their franchise goalie over the past 16 years suit up for the opposition, but in tonight's contest, Olaf Kolzig will do just that.

Drafted 19th overall in the 1989 draft, Kolzig enjoyed a fruitful career as the Capitals tender winning a Vezina award along with a trip to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals. But the relationship between Washington and Kolzig went sour last season as Washington decided their rebuild was completed and his services were no longer needed. They went out and traded for Cristobal Huet.

Kolzig spent the remainder of the season as the teams back-up goalie, and after their Game 7 playoff loss to Philadelphia, it was widely believed that he would then retire.

When July 1st, 2008 rolled around it was quite a shock for many to see Godzilla trade in his red white and blue for the black and blue of Tampa Bay.

Most Capitals fans said "good riddance" to Kolzig and some went as far as losing respect for his decision to continue his playing career.

Some chose to forget the five 30+ win seasons in a Capitals uniform, others chose to forget the 38 shutouts as a member of the franchise.

And yes, some went as far as forgetting his total dedication to a team going through a rough rebuilding process, as he stuck with the organization as opposed to signing with a playoff bound team in search of his first elusive Stanley Cup Championship.

Not to mention his unwavering devotion to the city of Washington and the many charitable foundations he belongs to.

The truth of the matter is that the Washington Capitals quit on Olaf Kolzig long before Kolzig quit on them
. And that is a true test of his character as he always found a way to remain a "team first" player.

In this day and age of the NHL, neither Kolzig nor the Capitals are to blame for the fallout that transpired last season. It was simply a case of two sides having two differing expectations of Olaf's role within the organization, and neither side should be chastised for the decisions they made.

There is a very good chance that Kolzig will never win the Stanley Cup he has longed for his entire career, as his new gig in Tampa puts him into the role of mentor as the Lightning try to hone Mike Smith into a serviceable NHL starter.

Kolzig could have easily rode off into the sunset as a Washington Capital and he would have been enshrined as the greatest goaltender in the teams history. No one else can hold a candle to Kolzig's tenure, and he holds many team records that will most likely never be broken. But instead of hanging them up, he believed that he still had something to give to the NHL, comparable to all that he gave to Capitals fans over 16 seasons of service.

Tonight night isn't about the Tampa Bay Lightning visiting the Verizon Center to take on the Capitals. It's a story of perseverance and the love of the game making it's way back to the nations capital.

Tonight it is Olaf Kolzig versus the Washington Capitals.

No comments: