DALLAS—In a sense, Eddie Olczyk beat the clock. A Chicago guy who made it big, he was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Monday night. After several minutes of hanging tough, Eddie interrupted his speech, pointed to a couple tables occupied by Blackhawks personnel and correctly assumed that everybody was amazed he hadn’t cried yet. He then announced the wait would soon be over.
Sure enough, Eddie recalled those days as a kid when he would clunk down the stairs back home in full hockey gear while his mom, Diana, serenaded him with “Here Come the Hawks.” In dark suit and dark tie, Eddie the man now bowed his head and sniffled while co-workers and friends paused during dessert to decide who had most closely analyzed the great analyst’s breaking point.
As usual, Eddie O didn’t miss much while behind the microphone. He thanked the Wirtzes, from Bill to Peter to Rocky. He saluted John McDonough, the Blackhawks’ president/CEO, and Jay Blunk. He hailed his parents—“The Real Ed Olczyk,” and Diana—four terrific children, and teammates enjoyed during 16 years in the big show. Nicely, Eddie O mentioned that he’d played with a lot of great lines, but he will be forever honored with his two sidekicks on this evening.
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Lou Lamoriello, the brilliant mind who has built three Stanley Cup champions with the New Jersey Devils, joined Edzo in the Class of 2012, as did Mike Modano, an offensive machine for the Dallas Stars and a superstar who helped sell the NHL in Texas, much as Wayne Gretzky put the league in a dress shirt on the West Coast. We forget that when Eddie was dreaming of joining the Blackhawks, their farm club was here, in Dallas. The Dallas Black Hawks, two words.
“How time flies,” said Eddie O, who cited three former Blackhawks—Denis Savard, Troy Murray and Darryl Sutter—along with Ron Francis for befriending him and teaching him how to be a professional. Olczyk learned quickly and absorbed well, although there was that early morning when an amateur referee threw him out of the rink in Mt. Lebanon, Penn. Son Eddie, if he was going to play his game, would have to do so without Dad. But one question begged to be asked: “Are you going to tell Mom about this?” The answer was no, but on Monday night, maybe 20 years after the incident, the truth emerged.
“Full disclosure,” sighed Edzo.
Eddie O’s introduction to broadcasting occurred during the lockout that delayed the start of the 1994-95 season. After winning the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers the previous spring, he was asked to provide analysis on in-house TV at the Meadowlands. He accepted, not exactly at gunpoint. Talk about a labor of love. Long before Pat Foley had anointed Olczyk as a member of the formidable “Clydesdales” beside Murray and Curt Fraser, Eddie gravitated toward four-legged athletes. So discussing thoroughbred horses—despite ample pauses between each race—was as comforting as nibbling on his beloved Swedish fish between periods.
“They paid me $600 a night, knowing full well that they would probably get it all back at the window,” recalled Eddie O. “That was my first time before a camera, and the first time I had to get used to wearing that ear piece, with people talking to me during the telecasts. I mentioned to my wife, Diana, over dinner one night how difficult it could be to speak while you’re being spoken to. She said, ‘look around this table…we have four kids carrying on four separate conversations while we’re telling them to each eat their vegetables and while you and I are trying to carry on our own conversation. What you’re doing at the race track, that’s what we do every night.’ Good point.”
Soon after, Edzo got the call to work some playoff games on NHL radio, then ESPN. He was a natural. Olczyk retired in 2000 during his second tour with the Blackhawks, and coached the Pittsburgh Penguins for a spell. He returned to broadcasting full-time in 2005, has been beside Foley, the voice of the Blackhawks, for six seasons and is indisputably the lead hockey analyst on American television, usually on NBC with Mike “Doc” Emrick, a fellow Hall of Famer and open admirer of Eddie’s skills. All those frequent flyer miles Eddie accumulates around the NHL do not include the hours he spends watching sons Eddie and Tommy play college games, while also being a doting father to Nick and Alexandria. Diana, who married Edzo for better or worse but not for lunch, is the glue.
“A fabulous family, and a fabulous family man, Eddie is,” praised Foley. “He might leave the United Center after our broadcast, head to the airport or drive all night to see the kids do whatever they’re doing.”
Edzo recognized that he learned priorities before he became rich and famous from his parents, Big Ed and his Diana.
“My dad worked hard,” said Edzo. “Mom was unbelievable, putting up with me shooting pucks in the garage. She was the goalie. And no matter how difficult it was, I’d be at a game, turn my head around, and they were there for me.”
On a personal note, I first met Eddie O and the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. He was a diaper dandy on the United States team that faced a daunting task: how do you top the Americans’ historic “Miracle On Ice” gold-medal performance four years prior at Lake Placid, N.Y.? A sequel did not materialize, but Eddie’s enthusiasm never waned. I figured his zeal was a product of his youth, and I was wrong. Years later, he can enter the broadcast booth in the middle of January and treat what unfolds below as the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final.
The kid who loved hockey then is still a kid in so many ways, and still in love with the game of his life.