In AHL and ECHL, Olie Relishing Role As Washington Capitals Professional Development Coach

Goalie Olie Kolzig, shown playing for the Washington Capitals against the New Jersey Devils in an exhibition game at Giant Center, is now Washington's pro development coach. CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE, The Patriot-News (2006)
Goalie Olie Kolzig, shown playing for the Washington Capitals against the New Jersey Devils in an exhibition game at Giant Center, is now Washington’s pro development coach. CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE, The Patriot-News (2006)

By Tim Leone |  tleone@pennlive.com

In a storied NHL goaltending career, one of Olie Kolzig’s greatest thrills was winning the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2005-06 with the Washington Capitals.

The award is given annually to a player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution to his community.

Kolzig views his role as Caps professional development coach as an extension of that spirit.

“At the end of the day, you want to be remembered for how you are as a person as opposed to what you did on the ice,” Kolzig said. “That’s great – accomplishments and stuff like that. But hockey is a small slice of someone’s life. Being an impactful person away from the rink, I think, is more significant.

“For me, if I can have any sort of influence on these guys away from the rink, that to me is just as important as what they do on the ice.”

Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann, left, Washington Capitals pro development coach Olie Kolzig, middle, and Caps associate goalie coach Scott Murray observe practice at Giant Center. Tim Leone | tleone@pennlive.com

Hershey Bears head coach Troy Mann, left, Washington Capitals pro development coach Olie Kolzig, middle, and Caps associate goalie coach Scott Murray observe practice at Giant Center. Tim Leone | tleone@pennlive.com

Following last season, Kolzig, 44, switched from being Washington’s head goalie coach to the development coach role, which allows him to spend more time at home in St. Petersburg, Fla., with his family amid visits to work with the Hershey Bears and ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.

Kolzig is back in Hershey this week — midseason player assessments are part of the agenda — working with the Bears.

The goal is for Caps prospects to reach the NHL, but the reality is that a lot of them won’t. Kolzig is in a position to play a formative role that is potentially more profound than simply developing hockey skills.

“I do cherish that,” said Kolzig, who was Washington’s associate goalie coach from 2011-13.

“For me, it’s helping these guys a lot with life skills as far as pro hockey goes, getting them settled, so when they come to the rink it’s just hockey and they don’t have to worry about stuff away from the rink.”

Kolzig carries the knowledge and gravitas of a 19-year pro career, including 303 career NHL wins and a Vezina Trophy, and the compassion of a parent of a child with autism. His 13-year-old son, Carson, has autism and he co-founded Athletes Against Autism and founded the Carson Kolzig Foundation.

“He’s had a long career and it’s enjoyable working with him,” said goalie Brandon Anderson, who has worked with Kolzig this season in Hershey and South Carolina. “He knows a lot about the game on and off the ice.”

Bears head coach Troy Mann said having Kolzig’s mentoring influence helps in his job.

“Coaching is so much psychological these days,” Mann said. “When you can have a guy like Olie, you can just banter about a particular player and say, ‘Hey, I think he needs to do these things or improve on these areas.’ Then it’s not only your message, it’s getting Olie also relaying the message in terms of a one-on-one setting.

“I think he does a great job. Players respect him and it’s real nice to have him around to add to the coaching staff when he is here.”

At the start of his pro career, Kolzig spent parts of two seasons in the ECHL with the Hampton Roads Admirals. Thus, he had the first-hand wisdom and experience to provide perspective for rookie winger Caleb Herbert, currently with South Carolina, when he was sent to the ECHL.

“It’s not easy for a lot of these guys,” Kolzig said. “They look at the ECHL as, in a sense, a demotion. But there’s a reason why you’re down there. You’re still there to work on your game and get ice time, as opposed to being up here and sitting in the stands and getting bag skated every day. I try to make it a positive situation for them, to have a better outlook on it, so they can just go down there and play hockey and not worry and sit by the phone waiting to get that call back up to Hershey.

“When you’re a first-year guy, a lot of things are overwhelming for you. Sometimes they make things a lot bigger than they really are. Part of my job is to kind of minimize those things for them because of my experiences. Hopefully, they can take what I tell them, apply it to themselves and have a successful pro career.”

Of course, Kolzig still finds himself working with the goalies, too.

“Actually,” he said, “it’s a lot more than I thought I was going to be doing, which is fine because it keeps me involved in the goalie part of it, which I still enjoy doing, still feel like I have some good knowledge of.”

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Editor’s note: This article was published with permission from Tim Leone and Patriot News