Capitals associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig has been there before. He knows exactly what 23-year-old Michal Neuvirth was feeling when the team recalled Braden Holtby from Hershey of the American Hockey League on Monday to start ahead of him.
It was "tough to swallow," Neuvirth admitted the day after sitting on the bench for the San Jose game. He had figured with veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun ill with the flu, the spot was his for the night, only to learn later in the day that wasn't the case. But dealing with that disappointment is all part of developing into a reliable goalie in the NHL.
"I'm sure in the back of his mind, [Neuvirth] assumed he was going to play, as did a lot of people, against San Jose, and for whatever reason they wanted to see Braden play, and they decided to start him, and that's just the life of an athlete," Kolzig said. "In the ideal world, we'd all like to know beforehand, but it's not an ideal world."
And that can be the toughest lesson of all to absorb. Neuvirth has noted several times this season that it's difficult not seeing the organization's goalie coaches on a regular basis. Kolzig lives in the St. Petersburg, Fla., area and travels to the two minor league affiliates to work with the goalies there. Dave Prior, director of goaltending, also has scouting duties, works with the prospects and visits Washington every couple of weeks. Kolzig sympathizes -- to a point.
"As a young guy, you definitely want somebody there all the time that understands the position. And [coach] Dale [Hunter] has already admitted that he's not a goalie expert by any means," Kolzig said. "And that's why [Prior] and I are at his disposal. But at the same time, goalies have to go through some adversity on their own. You can't have the goalie coach being there the whole time as a crutch. Sometimes you have to develop a certain mental toughness and figure things out on your own."
No one knows better than Kolzig, who needed parts of seven years in the minors before he topped 20 games in an NHL season and another couple to establish himself as a full-time starter. No guarantee Neuvirth will be able to do the same. But the blueprint, at least, is there.
- Brian McNally