Olaf Kolzig's first post-playing season attests to how anything is possible with public trust.
It will be a nice anniversary gift if the Tri-City Americans are still playing on May 19, the mid-point of the MasterCard Memorial Cup. That's when original Ams and recently retired NHLers Kolzig and Stu Barnes, along with partners Dennis Loman and Bob Tory, will mark five years since being approved as owners of the Kennewick, Wash.-based club. Kolzig, the former Vezina Trophy winner who retired as a player last season, says it has been "night and day" since they came on the scene in 2005.
"The city's back on board, the passion is back, and it's the passion we, Stu and myself, saw as players the first couple years (1988-89, 1989-90) when the team moved down from New Westminster (B.C.)," the man who was universally known as Olie the Goalie across his 16-season NHL career, mostly with the Washington Capitals, said on Tuesday.
"It's gone from an attitude of, 'we don't care about you guys anymore' to 'we couldn't be happier you're here.' "
Five seasons ago, the Americans were averaging about 2,300 fans per game, amid rumblings the club would relocate to Canada. The league balked at letting then-owner Darryl Porter move the club (and possibly taking an expansion market out of play), which hastened a sale.
The club has slowly rebuilt its fanbase; it had 4,351 in attendance for a critical Game 5 win over Vancouver in Western Conference final.
While some NHLers turned junior hockey mavens double up with coaching and player-personnel duties, Barnes and Kolzig are generally regarded as hands-off owners who trust people to do a job well. That's earned them a lot of goodwill.
"I don't think there's really a magic potion or a hidden secret when you're trying to make a winning franchise," Kolzig adds. "For teams that have been in an area for a while, it just comes down to treating people right. Our GM, Bob (Tory), does a fantastic job, our marketing crew works hard. As owners, we're just trying to provide professional atmosphere and the team has responded beyond what we thought was possible."
Kolzig, meantime, has found owning the Americans goes hand-in-hand with his work with the Carson Kolzig Foundation, named for his son, who has autism. The former Vezina Trophy winner and his spouse, Christin Kolzig, have dedicated themselves to the cause since 2002, when Carson was diagnosed. Kolzig, who's
"We've seen such a great response from the community with the foundation," he says. "That's a big part of why my wife have chosen to live here full-time."
All in all, it's been a smooth transition from player to owner.
"The last year, I've been like a kid who just graduated from high school and takes a year off before deciding to go to college," Kolzig, 40, says. "I've been chomping at the bit to get involved with something that's going to occupy my time and involve my passion for hockey and for raising awareness with autism. I'm pretty excited."
Meantime, the Americans' run has been exciting enough. The undersized Americans will be put to the test against the Hitmen, but Kolzig notes there's a little added motivation for Tri-City.
"I'm a big believer in a destiny," Kolzig says. "Half our team (nine players) is from Winnipeg and the Memorial Cup is is Brandon, a couple hours east of Winnipeg, so they have a chance to be playing in front of friends and family."
- Olaf Kolzig