When Eddie Olczyk was growing up in Chicago, the Blackhawks didn't televise their home games. He would cheer on the team at night while shooting pucks in his garage, listening to Pat Foley on the radio.
Roughly three decades later, Olczyk now sits alongside Foley in the broadcast booth for Comcast SportsNet in Chicago. When not paired with Foley, Olczyk is calling nationally televised games on NBC with Hall of Fame announcer Doc Emrick.
Indeed, life has been good for Olczyk since he ended his playing career in 2000. Monday, Chicago's first-round pick (No. 3) at the 1984 NHL Draft will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame -- along with Mike Modano and Lou Lamoriello -- at a ceremony to be held at the Plaza of the Americas in Dallas.
"I've worked with the very best that we have throughout the National Hockey League," Olczyk told NHL.com. "To be able to work with two voices of hockey -- Doc on a national level for so many years and working with Pat on a local level in Chicago -- when you work with the best, it makes your job a lot easier because there is the intimidation and there is the awe factor. It's about talking about the greatest game in the world and teaching and having fun. It's a privilege. I've been given so many gifts. To get a chance to sit next to those two guys on 122 nights a year to do hockey games, I'm pretty lucky. I couldn't be more pleased to be their partners, that's for sure."
Olczyk, 46, got his first taste of life in the booth near the turn of the century via radio. With Emrick by his side, Olczyk quickly understood what an analyst should be. Though it wasn't the same as working on television, Emrick had a feeling his partner could evolve into one of the top analysts in the sport.
"It's a little hard to get an assessment on how well somebody can teach when you're working with them on radio because they're obligated to be such a quick hitter because there's no picture to go on and there are no replays to work with," Emrick told NHL.com. "But he had the ability before any replay came up on a monitor that we might have sitting in the radio booth, he would recap the play brilliantly. Foley said he thinks he has a photographic memory. I think he's probably right because when a goal is scored [on TV], he will actually be on the button down to the truck telling them what angle he wants and where it needs to be backed up to. He saw the play and doesn't need to see a replay once. He's already seen it. He knows how the play happened. When it goes in, he knows why and he knows what to start showing to explain why. You don't need somebody who's just going to repeat what you did. If I did just a halfway decent job [explaining it], then it's just redundant. That's why I think he's probably the best teacher you can find. All analysts have to be good teachers."
Olczyk was able to become a better analyst thanks to a coaching stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2003-05. Though he would have liked to have seen things through with the Penguins -- he was fired by the club 31 games into the 2005-06 season -- Olczyk is thankful for the knowledge he gained.
"At that time, the Penguins had no coaches in the organization," Olczyk said. "They had no coaches at the NHL level, the American League level, or in Wheeling, which was the [ECHL]. They were going to rebuild. [Former Penguins general manager] Craig Patrick was so good to me from Team USA and he and Mario [Lemieux] hired me and gave me that chance in Pittsburgh. When Craig took over the Rangers after the Olympics, Craig had never been a head coach in his career and his first job was in the National Hockey League. I think there was that cord of respect and knowing the game.
"Look, it was a tough spot and I would never trade it in for anything. It made me a better coach, it made me a better hockey guy, it made me a better person. It just taught me a lot about the game, and I think it's helped me to where I am today as far as a broadcaster. It gave me an opportunity to really broaden my hockey mind. I loved the challenge. It was gratifying to see a lot of young players that I had those two seasons and what they've done now in their NHL careers. I mean, we started over. We blew it up. We were on a five-year plan."
Olczyk, who joined the Blackhawks' booth full-time in 2006, said he believes the announcers he's worked with also enabled him to grow as an analyst. However, he admits he felt comfortable right from the get-go.
"I knew that I had to start preparing for life after hockey and was given some opportunities. [Director of NHL Radio] Gregg Baldinger was the guy that hired me for Westwood One and NHL Radio and gave me a chance to do some games. I had a chance to work with Bob Miller (Los Angeles Kings) and Dave Strader (Phoenix Coyotes) and Ralph Strangis (Dallas Stars), so I think I started to realize there might be an opportunity to work in the game from that aspect of it. But I don't think there was any doubt that it was just something that came very natural."
Emrick said, "The support that he gives you as a broadcaster and as a colleague … he's 20 years younger than I am. I just hope that when he is my age and still working that he will have somebody as his partner who is as supportive of him as he has been of me. You just really feel like, 'There's a guy that's got your back.' He's with you all the way. We all need that. Anybody in any line of work likes to know they've got the support of their colleague. I hope he gets somebody like himself when he's 20 years older.
"I'm happy for him and I'm happy for his family. I know them and they're just wonderful people. The impressive thing to me is it's one of those rare times where the people that you work with and your family are all in the same place at once. That's a lifetime memory. The first time it ever happened to me was for the Lester Patrick [Award] in New York. You never forget looking at that table that has the people you grew up with that you've had a half-century with, and then a couple of other tables are people that you've worked with. Those groups of people never seemingly intersect -- except for an occasion like this.
"I think he'll be thrilled with all the hockey people there, but the fact that his family is all going to be there and sitting around the table with him, I think that's going to be huge."