Have a conversation with him, and one could easily mistake Penn State forward Tommy Olczyk for his father, Eddie, who spent 16 seasons in the NHL and the better part of a decade as a hockey analyst on TV.
Complimented for his ability to speak to the media and in front of a camera, Olczyk deflects comparisons to his father by joking that he’s not better than his mentor, just better looking. While the former NHL forward and TV analyst critiques his son’s performance on the ice for the Nittany Lions, Tommy and his two brothers evaluate their father’s TV appearances for NBC.
“Especially now that we’re older and more aware of our surroundings, we give him a lot harder of a time whether it be something he says on TV that gives us a laugh,” Olczyk said. “There’s some videos of him on YouTube getting into fights. There’s one of him getting into it with Bob Probert, as anyone in the hockey world knows, he was as tough as they come. I think Bob Probert didn’t really want to do anything to him so he just held him down but my dad didn’t really have much going for him there … we poke fun at him sometimes but then he always has the upper hand because his comeback is always, ‘how many goals did you score in the NHL?’”
While his dad may have the last laugh, he has always been a hockey mentor to his three sons and encouraged their development as players. Likewise, the sons have been known to provide advice and suggestions to their father during his on-air appearances.
“Sometimes, I’ll even be watching a game and if he doesn’t see something, I’ll text him,” Olczyk said. “Then coming back from the next commercial, the next replay that he’s getting ready to analyze is exactly what I texted him. I know my older brother does that as well and he’ll always send us a quick text at the next commercial break that just says, ‘thanks a lot.’”
Well rehearsed in front of a camera and an eye for the game, Olczyk said he isn’t interested in pursuing a career in broadcast. Instead, he is closing in on a master’s degree in accounting at PSU while scoring 14 goals and 20 points in three seasons for the hockey team.
“At this stage in my life, I know that whether I decided to do something else other than hockey I know my dad would still 100 percent support me,” Olczyk said. “Whether I decided to play professional hockey when I’m done (with college) or not, I know that he’s going to be there to support my decision. The biggest bond that we share is that I obviously support him in anything that he decides to do and I know it’s a completely mutual feeling.”
Olczyk has six goals in 22 games — the most he has had in a single season for PSU — but admitted he’s not much of a goal scorer. When given the chance, he’s confident he can finish but has happily accepted a position as a role player, bringing the high-energy and smart plays into the game. Olczyk enjoys being on the penalty kill, where the Nittany Lions rank second in the conference killing off 83 percent of penalties.
“It’s something that I take pride in,” he said. “I know even if I’m having a poor game or I don’t have my legs or feeling short of breath, if I get put out on the penalty kill, it’s my bread and butter. It’s my favorite part of the game and something I feel like I excel at.”
Going against an equally defensive-minded Michigan State team this weekend, Olczyk and the Nittany Lions could find themselves in a low-scoring contest. Ranked No. 18 nationally, PSU hopes to continue its climb in the standings. A scrappy game where players have to be smart with the puck is the type of game that the 5-foot-9 Olczyk thrives in and his teammates should feed off of that energy.
No. 12 MICHIGAN (8-2-0, 16-8-0)
OVERVIEW: The Wolverines won a sloppy outdoor game, 4-1 over Michigan State last Saturday in the Hockey City Classic. The power play went 0-for-3 in poor conditions but UM was still able to come away with its conference-leading eighth B1G win of the season. What once was the nation’s best power-play unit has slowed down somewhat, going 1-for-8 in the last three games. This week’s opponent, Minnesota, has scored a power-play goal in five consecutive games converting 9-of-20 opportunities in that span and replacing the Wolverines as the best power play in the country at 29.1 percent for the season. With Minnesota’s special teams trending up and UM’s trending down, this matchup will be decided by which one can be successful on the man advantage.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Forward Cristoval Nieves has been a streaky player for the Wolverines this season. He’s gone three games without a point on two separate occasions but has also recorded point streaks of five, three and four games in 2014-15. With seven assists in his last four games, Nieves has contributed on the game-winning goal in the team’s last three victories. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior has four assists in six career games against Minnesota and the Wolverines will need Nieves’ playmaking ability on the man advantage as he is third on the team with seven power-play points.
THIS WEEKEND: at Minnesota, Feb. 13-14.
MICHIGAN STATE (4-4-2, 10-12-2)
OVERVIEW: Slow out of the gate, MSU didn’t score a goal in Saturday’s outdoor game until the six-minute mark of the third period. Plagued by slow starts and lack of goal scoring, the Spartans have been held to two goals or less in seven of the last eight games. After giving up four goals to the B1G’s top offense, the Spartans now face the No. 2 offense in the conference as Penn State averages 3.58 goals per game. The Nittany Lions defeated MSU in the last meeting, scoring four unanswered goals to win 5-2 in Happy Valley. The Spartans only have five home games remaining at Munn Ice Arena including both games this weekend, a place where they have gone 4-0-1 in the last five and haven’t lost since Dec. 5 against Minnesota.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Matt DeBlouw scored the lone goal for the Spartans in the Hockey City Classic on Saturday. It was his second goal in as many games and the first time since 2013 that the forward had scored a goal in consecutive outings. DeBlouw now has three points in the last four games and is third on the team with six goals. The junior from Chesterfield, Mich., has appeared in 24 games surpassing his total from a season ago and the Spartans are 5-2-1 when DeBlouw records a point. He has played well against some of the nation’s top teams, scoring three goals and one assist in the Spartans’ last five games against top 20 teams.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. No. 19 Penn State, Feb. 13-14.
MINNESOTA (5-2-3, 14-9-3)
OVERVIEW: The Gophers were swept in the previous meeting with the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Mich., a month ago. Playing at Mariucci Arena this time around could be a different story as the Gophers have gone 11-0-2 in home games against B1G opponents since joining the conference. Minnesota has scored four or more goals in four consecutive games averaging 37.8 shots on goal in that span. The Gophers scored eight goals in the previous series with the Wolverines and could have similar offensive success this time around. If the matchup is a high-scoring affair like it was in early January, that type of game should favor the home team on an Olympic-sized ice surface.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Travis Boyd scored four goals and an assist in two games against Ohio State, earning himself first star of the week honors in the B1G. He recorded the first hat trick of his collegiate career by scoring three of the team’s first four goals of the game in Saturday’s 6-2 win. The senior forward leads the Gophers with 13 goals and is third on the team with 25 points despite missing seven games with a lower body injury in November. Boyd has six game-winning goals, which leads the B1G and has recorded a point in 15-of-19 games this season.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. No. 12 Michigan, Feb. 13-14.
OHIO STATE (2-8-0. 7-15-2)
OVERVIEW: Offensive struggles continued to build up for the Buckeyes after being held to two goals or less for the fifth time in six games. Luckily, OSU has a favorable matchup against the B1G’s last place team and will have two good opportunities to get back in the win column, trying to end a six-game losing streak. It is the first matchup between OSU and UW since the Badgers defeated the Buckeyes 5-4 in overtime of the B1G championship last season. Both of these teams are very different than a season ago as they are struggling to put wins together. Seven of the next eight games are at home for the Buckeyes, so a nice home stand could benefit OSU late in the season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Defenseman Sam Jardine recorded a goal and an assist in two games against Minnesota last weekend. The goal was his first of the season and third of his career for OSU as Jardine is the team’s leading scorer for defensemen with nine points. A sixth round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011, Jardine leads the team with 37 blocked shots and anchors the Buckeyes blue line. The 6-foot-1 junior from Camrose, Alberta, has been integral in the team’s success having recorded five points in the Buckeyes’ seven wins and will have to continue his success if OSU is to end the losing streak.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Wisconsin, Feb. 13-14.
No. 19 PENN STATE (7-2-1, 15-7-4)
OVERVIEW: Back in the USCHO top 20 poll, the Nittany Lions haven’t lost in eight straight outings. With two dominant wins over the Badgers last weekend, PSU had nine different goal scorers including Luke Juha and Erik Autio who scored their first goals of the season. Both of those goals came on the power play and the Nittany Lions are 5-for-21 on the man advantage in the last five games. Averaging 4.33 goals per game and reaching the five-goal mark in four of the last six games, the PSU offense has been one of the best in the conference over the last month. Munn Ice Arena is one of two B1G venues that PSU has yet to record a victory in and with the Nittany Lions on a hot streak, could change that before the weekend is over.
PLAYER TO WATCH: P.J. Musico became the third different PSU goalie to earn four wins this season. It has been a goaltender-by-committee effort in Happy Valley as Musico, Matthew Skoff and Eamon McAdam have taken turns defending the net. Musico has been the guy as of late, though, going 4-0-1 with a .947 save percentage and 1.68 goals against average in his last five appearances including a 33-save performance against the 15th ranked Vermont Catamounts on Jan. 31. In 24 career games, Musico has never played against MSU but should be able to keep the Spartans at bay as they average just 2.25 goals per game.
THIS WEEKEND: at Michigan State, Feb. 13-14.
WISCONSIN (0-8-2, 2-18-4)
OVERVIEW: Still winless in B1G action, all 10 games have been against teams in the top half of the standings. That means the remaining schedule should be somewhat favorable for the conference’s last place team as four of the next five series are against a struggling OSU and offensively stagnant MSU teams. Against PSU last weekend, the Badgers generated plenty of scoring chances, putting 65 shots on net in two games but just couldn’t seem to finish. The Buckeyes have difficulties playing from behind giving up the first goal of the game in six straight, so if UW can jump out to an early lead in this one it could lead to the first conference victory of the season for the Badgers.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Morgan Zulinick has been one bright spot in an otherwise gloomy 10-game winless streak for the Badgers. The sophomore has points in three of the last four games and needs just one point to match his total from a season ago. From Nov. 29 to Jan. 16, Zulinick recorded an eight-game point streak as the team went 2-4-2 and if the team is to get back in the win column, the 5-foot-11 forward will have to get on the score sheet. In five career games against the Buckeyes, Zulinick has three goals and five points and should have plenty of chances to add to that stat line.
THIS WEEKEND: at Ohio State, Feb. 13-14.
The Big Ten will descend on Joe Louis Arena for the first time from March 19-21 as the conference’s championship tournament will be staged in Detroit with all five games set to air live on the Big Ten Network. All-session ticket packages, which include one ticket to all five games of the tournament, start at $45, and are now on sale at the JLA box office (313-471-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at OlympiaEntertainment.com.
The top two seeds entering the tournament receive byes through the opening-round games, which will take place March 19 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The semifinals are scheduled for March 20 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the championship game set to follow on March 21 at 8 p.m.