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The Verdict: Olczyk combines experience, instinct and passion in the booth

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Through his career, Eddie Olczyk has been an ambassador for hockey in the U.S. (Photo by Getty Images).

When Eddie Olczyk is inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame Monday night, family and friends will attend the ceremony in Dallas. A telestrator shall not be required during Eddie O’s acceptance speech, but you never know when those Swedish fish might show up.

“I guess I should bring some along,” said the iconic Mike “Doc” Emrick. “Whenever we do a national telecast, he likes to have them around. They come in all flavors, I guess, but Eddie prefers the red ones. That’s the chewy candy dentists love. I imagine they’re a source of energy for him, and he certainly does not lack for that.”


Blackhawks Team Historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. He authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001, was the featured contributor in "One Goal Achieved: The Inside Story of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks," and has co-authored biographies on Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.

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Indeed, Olczyk expertly analyzed 116 hockey games last season, either beside Pat Foley with the Blackhawks or Emrick on NBC. That’s a lot of words and miles and Swedish fish. But such is the presence of Olczyk in the booth that one can forget he scored 342 goals during a fine NHL career, including two terms in Chicago, where the native son was a first-round draft pick of the Blackhawks in 1984, and where he retired in 2000.

“When I heard Eddie got voted in, I was obviously happy for him, because he deserves it,” said Foley. “My next question was, is he getting in as a player or a broadcaster? He could make it as both. The current generation knows him as the best in the business at what he does on the air. But he could really play too.”

Indeed, there is no distinction for U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inclusion beyond overall excellence and contributions to the sport. Mike Modano, a brilliant performer for the Dallas Stars, will also be honored, along with Lou Lamoriello, longtime executive of the New Jersey Devils. Their domains are clearly defined. Olczyk’s body of work, however, extends well beyond ice level and years after his last shift. He is not an ex-jock who hung up his skates and then found himself behind a microphone, for better or worse.

“I believe it was Shinichi Suzuki, the Japanese violinist, who said that ability equals knowledge plus doing something 10,000 times,” said Emrick. “Eddie studies his craft and has the gift of being able to see things that nobody else sees, commit them to memory and then explain them. He doesn’t just tell you what happened. He tells you why. I have been doing this a long time, and I still learn from him because he is, above all, a teacher. We might have an instance of some obscure rule occurring in a telecast, and Eddie will pipe up, ‘Oh, that was called on us when I was coaching the Penguins.’ I mean, he really is amazing.”

Foley, who debuted as voice of the Blackhawks in 1981, concurs.

“As much as Eddie might talk on the air, he probably communicates twice as much with the truck,” Foley said. “We have a great producer there in Mike Leary, and Eddie has a button that shuts down his audio on the telecast and goes only to the truck. Eddie will not only ask for a replay of something that happened four shifts ago, but what camera angle to use. ‘End zone high so we can see the pattern develop.’ Then Eddie will come back to me, maybe after a whistle and during a stoppage in play, without missing a beat. He’s been talking to the truck while watching the game and he picks up from where I leave off like it’s nothing.

“I don’t know any better way to put it than this: Eddie not only has a great grasp of the game, he has a great grasp of the medium. If you understand hockey but can’t get it across on television, it’s not nearly the same as what he brings to the table. He looks at a game like a coach, a scout, an ex-player and…and…a professional broadcaster. It blows my mind. He has a photographic memory—we all decided that a long time ago. But there is a real art to what he does. What Eddie does is not easy, but he makes my job easier, that’s for sure. The fact that there’s a personality there, too, that makes it even better. We like to laugh, keep it light, when we can, and as serious as Eddie is about his job, he’s right there when it’s time to laugh.”

Emrick, a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee last year, marvels at Olczyk’s enthusiasm for a sport they both love.

“Eddie doesn’t just draw arrows,” he said. “He shows you how a play evolved, and he knows the what and why even before he sees the replay. In a way, he’s still coaching. He believes in that trilogy: don’t do a fly-by when you’re around the net, even if it’s not a comfortable place to be; if you have nothing else to do, it’s never a bad idea to put the puck on net; and third, without goaltending, you have no chance. Combine that with his instincts and his eyes…I mean, he can see deflections like he drew them up. We have a great time in the booth, and he’s so good be around. Come springtime, the only thing I know not to do is read a promo for the Kentucky Derby on NBC. That belongs to Eddie, although I believe he picked wrong on all Triple Crown races. He saw the Los Angeles Kings coming as a Stanley Cup champion months before it happened, but I don’t think Eddie got any of the horses right.”

Correction: Olczyk, when reached for comment, said he correctly selected Union Rags to win the Belmont.

“OK, my mistake,” said Emrick, laughing now. “I can tell you this. I’ll be in Dallas, and I am thrilled for Eddie. The broadcast booth has a different feel when you are beside someone who is not only great at his job, but a friend, a person you can confide in. Supportive, thoughtful, decent. I guess the popular term in sports for a successful team is chemistry. Well, that applies to a broadcast too. Eddie is 20 years younger than me. I told him, in 20 years, I hope he is working with someone who is as good to him and he is to me.”

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