End of an Era
There is a much different tempo to the off-season for those of us in the hockey business. During the season, you’re in a constant “go, go” mode because there are always practices, games, planes, buses, press conferences, scrums and dozens of other things demanding your immediate and/or constant attention.
The pace of the off-season is slower, more consistent. It has its own rhythm; there are the World Championships, there is the combine, there is the draft, there are qualifying offers, there is free agency, there is rookie camp. These events provide brief spurts of frenetic activity, but nothing like the constant and controlled (yet beautiful) chaos which characterizes the seasons themselves.
Shortly after the rookie camp has ended, there is training camp, when all is new and hopeful again and the frenetic 82-game NHL campaign — and, if you’re fortunate, the Stanley Cup playoffs that follow — looms directly ahead.
Every so often, a different day dawns, a day that does not belong in the context of the rest of the off-season, a day where that pace unexpectedly picks up again. Maybe it’s a trade, maybe a big announcement or a press conference of some sort. For a day or two, the pace picks up again. There is a flurry of activity and interest before our off-season hibernation resumes.
There was a Friday morning in May six years ago when one phone call turned a tranquil off-season Friday into a “red ball,” to coin a phrase from my years of watching “Homicide” and “The Wire.” Word came down that Ron Wilson would be relieved of his duties as Caps head coach; that was six years ago tomorrow.
Today is one of those days.
Tarik El-Bashir’s story in today’s Washington Post has Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig saying that he believes he has played his last game as a Capital. As is almost always the case when an athlete decides to move on from a city where he has played all or most of his career, there are reasons and circumstances for the movement, and those layers and circumstances hold their own layers and degrees that run as deep or deeper than the athlete’s roots in that city. Those layers and degrees can’t always be adequately untangled in the space of a newspaper article, or even several newspaper articles.
And more often than not, time is the most necessary element in making sense of it all.
At the conclusion of Washington’s season, much was made of Olie Kolzig’s “unwillingness” to talk to the media and his decision to take his nameplate down from above his locker at Verizon Center. I didn’t address either of those issues in depth. I actually believed it was good for Olie to take as much time as he believed he needed to take before talking to any of us. And he did that before sitting down with Tarik yesterday.
As for the nameplate thing, it was nothing as far as I was concerned. Olie is not the first nor will he be the last player to remove his nameplate. When a guy has spent as much time with one organization as Olie has with the Capitals, it would be more of a story if he didn’t take his nameplate, or some other small memento of his time with the organization.
Today brings more of a sense of finality; of the end of an era. And for me, it’s personal, too.
Kolzig is the last remaining player from the 1995-96 team, my first year as a day-in and day-out regular on the beat. He was a single guy, a backup goaltender with two NHL wins to his credit back then. Now he has a family, 301 regular season NHL wins and legions of fans everywhere who adore him and wish him the best.
Years ago, my kids did a photo shoot with Kolzig for a “Reading is Cool” community event. Those pictures of Olie and my kids are still on the mantle here in our palatial estate in Baltimore. Hell, Olie played in Baltimore before he went on to establish himself as an excellent NHL goaltender. He’s always been a first-class guy from my standpoint, and that point was driven home again today when he agreed to meet with me later on the middle of today’s maelstrom of activity. I’ll have more on caps.com later, after I get back from our meeting.
There is certainly a sense of sadness and a sense of getting older that accompanies today’s news, at least for me. But there is also a sense of appreciation and good fortune. Kolzig’s rise was not that probable. It was a story of perseverance and belief. And to me, that’s why we are where we are today. Kolzig believes he can still play in the NHL, and he is now setting out to prove that.
Like many others, I wish him the best and I won’t be betting against him.