It’s been more than four years since former Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig last started a game at Verizon Center, but his presence was felt in both creases Thursday night as the Caps fell 4-1 to the Montreal Canadiens.
In one goal stood Michal Neuvirth, the Caps 24-year-old netminder who has worked closely with Kolzig, now the Caps’ associate goaltending coach, over the past two years.
At the other end stood Canadiens goalie Carey Price, whose relationship with Kolzig dates to the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
Price was 17-years-old at the time and still months away from becoming the fifth overall selection in the 2005 NHL Draft. He was the starting goalie with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League, a team that Kolzig had purchased a share of in 2004.
With nowhere to play during the 2004-05 NHL work stoppage, Kolzig began skating with his junior team and quickly developed a relationship with its No.1 goalie.
“It was an opportunity for me to keep my conditioning up and at the same time work with this kid, who I obviously saw had a tremendous amount of talent,” Kolzig told the Capitals Radio Network.
Price emerged as an elite prospect during the 2004-05 season, with his .920 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against-average both ranking among the WHL’s best for a goalie with at least 50 games played.
“It was my draft year so it was really nice to have Olie around. I had never had never really hung out with an NHL goalie before and he treated me very well because he had obviously been in the same situation [as a junior goalie in the late 1980s] in Tri-Cities, so having him there with all that experience definitely helped.”
Kolzig admits that his experience working with young goalies was limited during his playing career to the occasional guest appearance at summer camps or goaltending schools, but that working with Price was the first time he dealt with an established prospect on a consistent basis.
“I considered myself more of a mentor than a technical coach,” Kolzig explained. “For Carey at his age, he was head and shoulders above where I had been at that age- he had the talent, the skill and the technical part down- so for me I was more of a mental coach. I just tried to minimize the lows and keep the one or two game losing streaks from snowballing into five or six game losing streaks.”
Added Price: “I think the biggest thing about working with Olie was just realizing how to carry yourself… He was always there to help me battle through the tough times, even though it was actually a pretty successful season in Tri-Cities that year. We had a lot of fun and just having him around in practice made it a lot more fun that season.”
Kolzig and Price have taken different paths since they first worked together in 2004-05 with Kolzig’s NHL career winding down years later just as Price saw his take off.
But the two have maintained a friendly relationship over the years, and Kolzig’s influence on Price can be noted every time the 25-year-old Habs goalie puts on his goalie mask.
While Price changes masks (and their designs) on a regular-basis, one constant remains a logo on the back of his mask which represents the Carson Kolzig Foundation- a nonprofit organization dedicated to education and resources for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families.
“I have that logo on the back of my helmet and any way I can help with that I’ll try to do so,” said Price, who is also a regular participant in the Carson Kolzig Foundation golf tournament held annually in Tri-Cities, WA.
“Olie obviously looks to current athletes for help and donations for that charity and with his having helped me along the way, I’m definitely more than willing to help him out too.
“I’ve had a lot of masks over the years, and I’ve been able to auction them off for charity but the one constant is the Carson Kolzig Foundation logo on the back. The more exposure the better and being able to raise money for autistic children is very important. I know several people with autistic children and it’s something that’s more common that you might think.”
For more information on the Carson Kolzig Foundation, visitwww.carsonkolzigfoundation.org.