You can wonder what Eddie Olczyk does with all his money. I want to know what he does with all his miles. As television analyst for the Blackhawks, NBC and Versus, he will wind up broadcasting 125 or so games by June. Granted, when working locally for Comcast or WGN, Olczyk travels on the team charter. But otherwise, he is on his own, a very frequent flier.
Take, for example, Olczyk’s itinerary during his Olympic “break.” After seven double-headers on national TV, capped by the Canada vs. United States Sunday afternoon gold medal finale in Vancouver, he really should have gone to bed. Instead, he went to the airport for a flight to Los Angeles, then a red-eye to Tampa to resume the NHL regular season Monday night.
Is he crazy, or does he just like eating peanuts at 30,000 feet? One other thing: When Olczyk isn’t doing actual games, he logs numerous nights in studio out East. Obviously, he does not commute by bus. So, here we go. What about those airplane miles?
“Oh, I give a lot of them away,” he said. “I might send my parents on a trip. That’s the least I can do. They made sacrifices for me. Or, I might go to see my sons. Eddie is a freshman at U-Mass; Tommy is in Sioux City of the USHL. But during the summer I don’t move too much. My wife, Diana, and our other two children, we stay pretty much close to home.”
Where did Eddie meet Diana? On a flight, naturally, when he was a member of the Blackhawks, who drafted him third overall in the 1984 NHL draft, rendering Olczyk the first native son ever selected in the first round by his hometown team. He scored in his opening game at the Stadium, and played his 1,000th game for the Blackhawks, but in between, well, he fastened his seatbelt often during stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets (twice), New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
In his spare time, such as it was, Eddie O built a bridge to his second career by working playoff games on radio and, during the NHL lockout in 1994, serving as in-house closed circuit expert for the Meadowlands thoroughbred meet—a labor of love for Olczyk, who is as comfortable with a Racing Form in his hand as a telestrator. Eddie follows the four-legged athletes and co-owns one with Hall of Famer Denis Savard--Blackhawk Red, a two-year-old training at Keeneland. What’s next for Olczyk, a Kentucky Derby victory?
Team historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. Verdi authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001.
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“Yeah, I’ve been very fortunate,” he says. “When I was a kid, I would shoot pucks in the garage at home in Palos Hills, listening to Pat Foley. Now, it’s unbelievable to sit next to him for Blackhawks’ games. And when I’m away on another assignment, I’m usually with Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, a Hall of Famer. How lucky am I? Do I ever get tired? Not really, not of talking hockey.”
Olczyk doesn’t just endear himself to viewers with his informative and conversational style. His partners offer effusive praise, and make no mistake about it, the booth can be a chilly place sans chemistry between the play-by-play announcer and the analyst.
“Eddie is a great broadcaster,” says Foley. “I don’t know if he agrees, but I believe he has a photographic memory. When I’m doing the game, he’ll talk to the producer about getting a replay ready. Then there’s a whistle, he calls out ‘Stop It Right Here!’ and he can tell you where everybody was on the ice, maybe three shifts ago, without even first looking at the tape! It’s mind-boggling. He teaches without talking down to people and he entertains because he’s got a terrific sense of humor. He’s the lead NHL analyst for a reason.”
“I second Pat’s motion,” adds Emrick. “Our Olympic experience was special, and Eddie helped make it that way for me. It was so comfortable, it was almost like you’re not working. On our commercial-free cable telecasts from Vancouver, Eddie really showed his stuff. He reacts to what he sees. He doesn’t bring his game in his briefcase, with pre-packagaed anecdotes. Eddie comes across as what he is, a people person. He grew up in his father’s grocery store. When summoned to clean up Aisle 6, he knew it was trouble. Aisle 6 was baby food. He’s learned the ropes.”
Emrick believes Olczyk is so hockey-wise that another coaching job is destined. Shortly after he retired as a player in 2000 following his second Chicago tour, Eddie went behind the bench in Pittsburgh. However, the Penguins, rebuilding and hurting financially, dismissed him. It still hurts, and while Olczyk never says never, he admits that “to leave this, it would have to be a unique situation.”
New fans who know Olczyk only as a broadcaster might be unaware that he was not just another pretty face in uniform. For a stretch of five seasons starting in 1987, he was one of only seven NHLers to score 30 or more goals. In 1994, as a Ranger, Olczyk’s name was immortalized on the Stanley Cup, and he was voted the Players’ Player by illustrious teammates who appreciated his attitude.
“My role there was to lead the morning stretch, keep the guys loose and be ready to play,” Olczyk recalls. “But Mike Keenan, the coach, didn’t use me much. I was his whipping boy. I don’t know why. Maybe because he thought I could take it. And maybe that influenced how I broadcast. I don’t beat up guys. It’s not what you say, but how you say it. If a player makes a mistake, I point it out with my telestrator and move on.”
For the Blackhawks’ last regular season game April 11 at the United Center, Eddie Olczyk will hit his hometown ice once again for a Heritage Night. “I am honored,” says “Edzo,” who despite all those frequent flyer miles, remains rather well grounded.