Just like Chicago Blackhawks President John McDonough, Eddie Olczyk is a Wrigley Field romantic and a Chicago Cubs fanatic.
"There's just that love affair," Olczyk said.
Olczyk grew up only 20 or so miles outside of the Windy City. Wrigley Field was his ballpark, his summer home. The Cubs were - and still are - his team. He is a diehard fan. He's even sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" there twice.
But when Olczyk stands on the broadcaster's podium Jan. 1 to call the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and hometown Blackhawks, it'll be like he's standing in a heavenly spot. The cold won't matter.
Wrigley Field is usually reserved for Olczyk's baseball heroes, but that blustery New Year's Day afternoon, "the Friendly Confines" will be reserved for his sport and team he cares for the most.
"It's the place to be," Olczyk said of Wrigley Field on New Year's Day. "You know baseball, that town and Wrigley Field are … it's seamless. I'm going to be so envious and jealous (that I can't play)."
Olczyk retired eight years ago, but he would take off his broadcaster's headset to wear the Hawks' sweater again just to take one shift against the Red Wings on Jan. 1.
Talk about a dream coming true: Olczyk was never a good enough baseball player to make it to Wrigley Field, but if he were only a few years younger he would have been a good enough hockey player to make it there.
That would have been unbelievable, and something Olczyk never could have imagined, no matter how far in the distance he let his mind wander.
"No, I never envisioned (a hockey game at Wrigley) or visualized what that would be like," Olczyk said. "Once we got the chance to do the game in Buffalo (last season), I guess I did at some point say, 'Geez, we've had it in a football venue and probably the next move would be to try to get it in a Major League Baseball stadium.' That was kind of the first time I really ever thought about and then I thought about Wrigley, how quaint it is and the rooftops. Sure enough it ended up happening."
It's perfect timing, too.
Perhaps no team in the NHL right now has captured the imagination of its growing fan base the way the Blackhawks have over the past season-plus. Olczyk has been documenting it all as the team's lead TV analyst on Comcast SportsNet and WGN.
"The roar is back in Chicago and the expectations are really high. People have come back," Olczyk said. "To be able to have this game with the defending Stanley Cup champions (against) a team that you saw signs of coming around last year, it's just natural. To be able to have that game on New Year's Day on NBC is something special."
Olczyk said he can't imagine a tougher ticket for any regular season sporting event in the history of Chicago sports than the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
"That's saying a whole heck of a lot when it comes to some of the teams and games that they've had in that city," Olczyk said.
There are only about 41,000 inside the stadium and maybe 4,000 more outside on the rooftops.
"The buzz in that town has been at a fevered pitch since the announcement," Olczyk said. "With the way the team has played and the way the team has really transformed over the last year … the Detroit Red Wings, is just a (perfect) matchup on New Year's Day at Wrigley Field.
"The people in Chicago are just really excited," he continued. "It's such a small venue and people are going to be – you know they are going to be right on top of the rink and it’s to be a part of it. If you can't get there, you better be watching on television."
In the United States, you'll get to hear Mike "Doc" Emrick and Olcyzk deliver the in-game action into your living rooms. You'll get inside the glass analysis from Pierre McGuire. You'll get intermission reports from Bob Costas and Mike Milbury.
Olczyk said he's watched replays of last season's NHL Winter Classic from Buffalo's snow-blown Ralph Wilson Stadium numerous times. Each time it gets better.
"You see it from where you are and then all of a sudden you go back and watch it and you absorb so much more," he said. "The things that are being shown in it really just sell the stories that are being told. It's all about fighting the elements. Both of these teams will be able to really appreciate it after the fact."
Emrick and Olczyk also fought the elements last season and plan to again this time around. Their 15-foot high booth was stationed about 30-feet away from the ice last season and they got to feel the energy of the crowd and battle the blizzard just like Sidney Crosby, Ryan Miller and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres.
"Our notes were saturated," Olczyk recalled. "The pictures sold it."
NBC producer Sam Flood said Emrick and Olczyk were originally going to call last season's Winter Classic from the broadcaster's booth inside the press box.
"There was a platform that one of our cameras was going to be on, and the director said the camera was too low, said it wouldn’t work and I said, 'But it would work for Eddie and Doc,' " Flood said. "At that point, I called Doc and Eddie and said, 'Hey, do you mind being out in the elements?' They said they wanted to experience what the players were experiencing.
"So, rather than observing the game, they became more participants because they were in the elements, they were part of it, and it made the story much that much more dramatic," Flood continued. "The shots of Doc and Eddie trying to get their notes with the snow swirling around it made it that much bigger a feel and that much cooler a feel. Thank God that camera was too low because it put these guys out in the elements and I think it made it a much more engaging telecast."
One that will be hard to repeat, but for a Chicago-boy like Olczyk, the venue is a good place start.
"Being a Chicago native and growing up a diehard Cubs fan, to be a part of that on New Year's Day is going to be one of those moments that in my lifetime will be very special," Olczyk said. "I can't wait until it gets here."Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer