Olaf ‘Olie’ Kolzig played as an NHL netminder for 14 years, all of which with the Washington Capitals (save eight games with Tampa Bay). He’s seen thousands of skaters rip shots at him, but he has never, ever, seen anyone turn on the red light like Alex Ovechkin.
In an interview with fellow former Caps goaltender and teammate Brent Johnson, Kolzig discusses the ease with which Ovi finds the back of the net.
“What you saw him do two years ago in the playoffs shows you how much he’s matured as a player. Blocking shots, taking guys under his wing on the bench—and that was a big, big reason why we ended up winning the Cup,” Kolzig says. “He has evolved. I’d love to see him break [Wayne] Gretzky’s [all-time goal] record. I’m not sure it’s gonna happen. The odds are against him but regardless of if he breaks it or not, it’s just amazing that we’re actually talking about the possibility of it. He’s the best goalscorer I’ve ever seen play.”
Not for nothing, ‘Olie the Goalie’ also played against Wayne Gretzky. The ‘Great One’ owns the NHL’s all-time scoring record with 894 goals. He was so proficient that even if he had never scored a single goal during his career, he’d still have the all-time record for points thanks to his 1,963 assists. He was the greatest offensive machine in the history of the game, but that title came into question when the Great 8 hit the ice. Ovechkin has had the mentality of someone who wants to reach the summit of the hockey mountaintop ever since his rookie year, Kolzig says.
“Oh, he’s the best. We saw him come in almost like a little brother to us. He wasn’t your typical European, much less Russian, because he wanted to get involved. He wanted a room with a North American guy so he could learn the culture, learn the language,” Kolzig says of his former teammate Ovechkin. “I think he had an enthusiasm about him when he was younger, you know. Flamboyancy when he scored goals, and what was ironic is the way he played and the way he celebrated endeared him to everybody around the league.”
Ovi has always had a flare for the dramatic. Sitting at seventh on the all-time goals list with 713 and climbing, the Capitals captain has entertained casual fans of the NHL for years with his bone-crunching hits, toothless grins after scoring goals, and of course, his rivalry with Sidney Crosby.
Drafted no.1 overall the year after Ovechkin was, Crosby’s career with the Penguins has paralleled that of Ovi’s for over a decade. Their rivalry has evolved into a Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird type of battle. Kolzig says Crosby’s place in the league has altered how hockey media has viewed Ovechkin, even though the latter’s style has never really changed.
“As soon as [Ovechkin] became a superstar and it was him and Crosby, Ovi would do the same type of celebrations and all of a sudden they’d vilify him for it. You know, ‘Oh look at this hot dog and dadadada, and look at our clean-cut Mr. Canada.’ But Ovi never really changed, he’s always been the same guy, he’s still the same guy when he comes to the rink.”
Kolzig and Ovechkin spent three seasons together in the nation’s capital. Kolzig would retire in 2009, and Ovechkin would go on to win one Stanley Cup with the Capitals (so far). The veteran left winger still has gas in the tank, and although it seems like he’s faced every possible obstacle to eclipsing Gretzky’s goal mark—including lockout-shortened seasons, the COVID pandemic, and the rare suspension—he inches closer and closer seemingly by the day. He still has 181 to go, but with his stamina and awe-inspiring athleticism, it might not be too far off.
Watch the whole interview between Brent Johnson and Olie Kolzig on Capitals Pregame Live, Friday at 6 p.m. before the Caps take on the Bruins at 7 p.m. all on NBC Sports Washington