Famous trophy helps to raise money for autism foundation

By Annie Fowler

The most iconic trophy in sports made an appearance in the Tri-Cities last month, helping to raise $15,000 for the Responding to Autism Center in Kennewick.

The Stanley Cup, the guest of former NHL goalie Olie Kolzig, made an appearance Oct. 23 at the Carson Kolzig Foundation in Kennewick and at a dinner at Meadow Springs Country Club in Richland.

“That was going to be my plan all along,” Kolzig said of bringing the cup to the Tri-Cities. “I have been in Florida the past 10 years, but this is home. With my involvement with the foundation, the center and the (Tri-City) Americans, and I have a world of friends here, it was a no-brainer to bring it back here.”

The Washington Capitals won the trophy, awarded annually to the NHL champion, last season. Members of the team and staff get a day with the trophy, and Kolzig, a former longtime goalie for the Capitals, and now one of their development coaches, chose to spend his day with the Stanley Cup with Tri-City hockey fans.

Along with sharing the cup with fans, it also benefited the Carson Kolzig Foundation, which is named for Kolzig’s autistic son Carson, 17. The foundation was created 14 years ago.

The Stanley Cup, awarded annually to the NHL champion, is 126 years old.Donations at both events, along with the proceeds from the dinner, totaled more than $15,000. The money will benefit the Responding to Autism Center in Kennewick, which is funded in large part by a continuing grant from the Carson Kolzig Foundation.

The Kennewick center has been open for about nine years and works with children as young as 2, and many adults, according to autism specialist Christine Lindgren.

“We have early intervention, we have school support, we do autism screenings, we do things for elementary kids and for teenagers to help them prepare for adulthood,” Lindgren said.

The center also has been offering a job placement program for the past 18 months.

Kasey Merz of Pasco, said her son John, 22, benefited from the program.

“He is working part time at the Richland Winco,” Merz said of her son, who has been receiving help at the center for six years. “He wouldn’t have that job right now if it wasn’t for Christine’s support and the other folks who work here. It supports me too as a parent. Someone is shouldering the issues and pressures of helping your child with autism. There is some uniqueness to your struggle with autism, and they totally understand that. They check in on him and advocate for him so he can be a good employee.”

Both centers are important to Kolzig, whose son was diagnosed when he was 15 months old.

“It was our long-term vision to have a center like this, so that we can provide services for families because we know how hard it is when you first get the diagnosis,” Kolzig said. “That is the first part of the nightmare, and the second part is try to find the necessary interventions and getting your child looked after and taken care of.

“Fortunately, we were able to pair with Christine (Lindgren) and she has taken things far and beyond what we thought. We want to continue to make it better and bigger. Unfortunately, (autism) is not going away. It’s more persistent than it should be. We need facilities like this to help families.”

Kolzig, who played for the Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 1998, but came up short against Detroit, said winning the trophy as a player is extra special, but winning it as part of the staff is just as rewarding.

“There is something about it,” he said. “But you don’t know what it is until you lift it over your head. When you win, you are part of a family. It’s extra special; they put my name on the cup. For them to honor me like that was very special.”

After the Capitals won the cup with a 4-1 series victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in June, the cup was passed around to all the players.

As team captain Alex Ovechkin was leaving the ice with the trophy, he spotted Kolzig, and handed him the trophy.

The two played together for three years with the Capitals, and became fast friends when Ovechkin first arrived in Washington.

The Stanley Cup is the oldest existing trophy awarded to a professional sports franchise. Teams first became eligible to challenge for the Stanley Cup in 1906.

The one-piece cup is designed with a five-band barrel, which can hold up to 13 winning teams per band. Once the bottom band is full, the oldest band is removed and preserved in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and a new blank band is added to the bottom.

The Washington Capitals are the only team on the newest band on the trophy, and Kolzig’s name is among those hand-engraved.

“That’s what’s so great about it,” Kolzig said of the cup. “Every letter is different, and the way they squeeze everyone in there. This ring will be on there for a while. I will be long gone before that one comes off in 50 or 60 years.”

Howie Borrow of the Hockey Hall of Fame, who accompanied the cup to the Tri-Cities, said the newest ring will be on the cup for 65 years before it reaches the top and is removed.

Borrow said Louise St. Jacques of Montreal has been engraving the cup for the past 30 years or so.

“The cup is 126 years old, and she is only the fourth engraver,” Borrow said. “It is nerve wracking to make sure everything is done right, and spelled right.”

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