A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Olaf Kolzig was raised in Canada, but the fact that he has never applied for Canadian citizenship works to his advantage. Instead, the 6-foot 3-inch, 225-pound goalie holds a German passport, both parents are German which qualifies him to play for that country's national team in international competition. Kolzig also says the German passport will make it easier for him to play in Europe when his NHL career is over.
Kolzig's family moved to Canada when he was 3 years old, and they lived in Halifax and Toronto before settling in Union Bay, Nova Scotia. He played junior hockey for the New Westminster Bruins and Tri-City Americans, with whom he became the first goalie in WHL history to score a goal, in a game on November 29, 1989. He led that high-scoring circuit with a 3.48 goals-against average in 1988-89, prompting the Washington Capitals to draft him in the first round 19th overall in the 1989 Entry Draft.
He turned pro in 1990, splitting the next couple of seasons between the minor-league Baltimore Skipjacks and Hampton Roads Admirals. In 1994, he was named most valuable player in the AHL playoffs after his Portland Pirates won the Calder Cup championship. His exploits earned him a permanent spot on the Washington roster, at first as backup to Jim Carey for three years.
During the first round of the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Vezina Trophy-winning Carey began to play poorly, and Kolzig took over admirably, posting a 1.94 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in five appearances against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In one game, which lasted into a fourth overtime period, Kolzig played all 139 minutes and 15 seconds, saving 62 of 65 Pittsburgh shots. Petr Nedved finally scored on him to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory. The Penguins won the series, but Kolzig had won the affection of the Washington fans, who nicknamed him "Olie the Goalie."
Prior to the 1996-97 season, the World Cup of Hockey was held, and although he had never played a single minute for the German national team, the 26-year-old Kolzig was named to its roster. He played superbly in the Germans' first game, a 6-1 loss to Sweden in which his team was outshot 40-9 over the first two periods and later that spring made his debut at the World Championships.
In 1997, after a disappointing season in which the Capitals missed the playoffs for the first time since 1982, Carey was traded to Boston and Kolzig earned the number-one job. He won 33 games, played in his first NHL All-Star Game, stopping 14 of 17 shots in his one period of action, and was the key to Washington's excellent performance in the 1998 playoffs. He tied an NHL record with four shutouts, and the Caps made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the defending champions, the Detroit Red Wings.
In November 1998 Kolzig was rewarded with a four-year, $12 million contract. He played for Germany at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, but the NHL schedule overlapped the Olympic preliminary round, so Kolzig arrived too late to help his team make it to the final round. Nevertheless, he won two games in which Germany's final ranking in the tournament would be decided.
Kolzig has continued to be the Capitals' workhorse between the pipes, playing 73 games and a league leading 4370 minutes in 1999-2000. In 2000 he was awarded the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender and was a First Team All-Star. Off the ice, Kolzig has taken a strong interest in the plight of the less fortunate. During the 1999-2000 season he launched Olie's All-Stars, a children's program through which he purchases 10 sets of season tickets and donates the seats to local children's charities.
After six straight 25+ win seasons with the Caps, Kolzig and his teammates struggled in 2003-04. With his lowest win total (19) since 1996-97 season, Kolzig and the Caps would miss the playoffs for the third straight season. Once the Capitals season came to an end, Kolzig answered the call of duty and made his second World Championship appearance with Team Germany at the 2004 Worlds' in Prague, Czech Republic.
Over the next few seasons, Kolzig continued to backstop the Capitals before he suffered an injury to his MCL in February, 2007. Prior to the injury, the netminder had missed only 18 games and never more than four in a row. The following season, the Capitals acquired goaltender Cristobal Huet from the Montreal Canadiens. Huet went on to gradually take over for Kolzig who eventually saw limited action with the Caps.
In the summer of 2008, Kolzig signed a 1-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but was traded at the trade deadline to Toronto along with Jamie Heward, Andy Rogers and a fourth round draft pick in exchange for defensive prospect Richard Petiot.