It has been a difficult few months as it pertains to a couple of the best hockey broadcasters in the business. Dave Strader, most recently known for his play-by-play contributions to the Dallas Stars and NBC Sports, passed away on Oct. 1, 2017, in his New York home.
Eddie Olczyk, a color analyst for the Chicago Blackhawks and NBC Sports, is fighting his own cancer battle after announcing his diagnosis in August. While Olczyk appears optimistic about his prognosis and even made an on-air appearance in only the second game of the Blackhawks’ 2017-18 season, he expects to be absent from the broadcast booth for a few months as he continues to receive treatment.
A large contingent of us, especially in Chicago, has grown increasingly fond of Olczyk, who is more commonly and affectionately referred to as “Eddie O” or “Edzo.” That has never been more apparent than during these past couple of months. Edzo has received an outpouring of support and encouragement from the Chicago sports and hockey communities.
The sentiment behind that outpouring certainly starts with the fact that he was a tremendous player and is now a fantastic broadcaster and ambassador for the Blackhawks and the game of hockey. We have welcomed him into our living rooms for decades. But, it goes way beyond that. Born in Chicago and raised in the suburbs, he is the city’s own.
‘I just always would take great pride in letting people know where I was from,’ Olczyk said. ‘There weren’t a lot of guys who grew up playing here that eventually made it. I wanted to help and open up some doors and allow people to say, ‘Hey, you know what? There are some opportunities there.’ I couldn’t be prouder to be from here.’ – Eddie Olczyk via the Chicago Tribune
Not only that, but Olczyk exudes a down-to-earth and relatable nature. He personifies many aspects of the common man, but he is anything but common, especially when it comes to the passion and enthusiasm he seems to always have around hockey and all aspects of life.
Among America’s Best
Olczyk’s rise to popularity off the ice began on it. He was drafted by his hometown Blackhawks third overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft and finished his career with the same organization 16 years later. Between his playing career’s bookends in Chicago, he spent formidable years with the Toronto Maple Leafs and also played in stints with the Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
During his inaugural NHL season, Olczyk, as an 18-year-old, was an immediate contributor in the Blackhawks’ run to the Campbell Conference Final. He tallied 20 goals and 30 assists during 70 regular-season games and scored another 11 points in 15 playoff games.
As a member of the Clydesdale Line, which included Curt Fraser and the Blackhawks’ current radio color analyst, Troy Murray, Olczyk posted three successful seasons with Chicago. Ironically, the Clydesdale Line’s name was coined by Edzo’s current TV partner and the Blackhawks’ longtime play-by-play broadcaster Pat Foley. It is considered by many to be one of the best line nicknames in NHL history. Coincidentally, while it had nothing to do with the naming of the line, Olczyk is also an avid horse racing fan and is involved with the sport in a multitude of ways.
After his first stint in Chicago, Olczyk dialed up the best statistical years of his career during the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons with the Maple Leafs. He tallied 90 regular season points during 1988-89 and followed that up with an 88-point season the next year, competing in all 160 contests over the two-year stretch. He then spent nearly a decade bouncing around the league, including a notable stop with the Rangers during the team’s 1993-94 campaign. While Olczyk was not a significant contributor to the squad in large part due to injury, he did win his one and only Stanley Cup with the Rangers.
Most would consider Olczyk one of the 25 best American-born players to grace the league. He finished his career with 342 goals and 452 assists (794 total points). Among his American-born peers, those numbers rank 13th, 20th and 17th respectively. When Olczyk retired, he took his propensity for success on the rink and carried it with him off the ice.
Eddie Olczyk – The Voice of Hockey
Since Olczyk’s playing career concluded in 2000, he has spent the large majority of his time as a color analyst for both regional and national television broadcasts. Edzo started with FSN Pittsburgh, where this particular nickname was coined by his partner Mike Lange. Olczyk moved from the booth to the bench for the Penguins to start the 2003-04 season. His time there only lasted a few seasons, and Olczyk was dismissed from the Pens’ head coaching job after the team’s disappointing start to the 2005-06 season.
But the Chicago native’s post-playing days were just getting started. Prior to the start of the 2006-07 season, Olczyk was hired as the Blackhawks’ TV color analyst for games on Comcast SportsNet and WGN. He would join play-by-play man Dan Kelly for two seasons before the Blackhawks re-hired Foley and paired him with Olczyk. That same season, Olczyk was hired as the lead color commentator for nationally-broadcast games on NBC and NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus).
Since those hires were made, Eddie O has developed into the voice of Blackhawks hockey and one of the premier voices of the NHL. His broadcasts are lively, insightful and unique. He has developed his own style, and one that flows seamlessly with Foley and his national play-by-play partner Mike “Doc” Emrick. Fans and viewers have grown accustomed to his voice. His delivery of the game has, in some respects, become synonymous with the game.
We often don’t miss what we have until it’s gone. And we’re certainly missing Edzo’s commentary as we embark on the 2017-18 NHL season.
Building a Legacy
Olczyk has done enough on the ice, behind the bench and in the broadcast booth to leave a lasting legacy. He was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012 and into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame a year later. But, his legacy goes well beyond his playing and broadcasting career.
Hockey is a family affair for Olczyk. All three of Edzo’s sons (Nick, Tommy and Eddie III) followed in their dad’s footsteps and pursued the game of ice hockey. Nick currently plays at Colorado College and previously spent seasons in the United States Hockey League (USHL) and North American Hockey League (NAHL).
Tommy currently plays with the ECHL’s Indy Fuel, which is affiliated with the Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs. He previously spent a year with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces as well as four years each at Penn State and in the USHL. Eddie III also played collegiate and USHL hockey and is currently a coach at Bemidji State University.
Beyond mentoring his children and instilling the love of hockey in them, Edzo has done the same for youth players.
‘It’s what I’m supposed to do,’ Olczyk said. ‘I don’t know a whole heck of a lot, but one thing I do know is hockey. And hockey is about life skills. I learned from my mom and dad (Ed) that there’s always someone who is a little less fortunate. It’s talking to young people and hoping that I can help one kid in any situation regardless of what it is.’ – Eddie Olczyk via the Chicago Tribune
Olzcyk is a head instructor for Blackhawks youth hockey camps. In 2011, the Blackhawks and their charities established the Eddie Olzcyk Award. The award assists individuals, families and sanctioned teams that may not have the financial or other means to compete. Since its inception, the award has distributed over $255,000 in grants to 114 individuals and seven organizations.
Now, Olczyk is working on building a different legacy. Cancer affects all of us, whether directly or through friends and family. While Olczyk has a tough battle in front of him and will face rounds of treatment, he understands the love and support that he will be given throughout this process. He also realizes the role model and inspiration he can be to so many who go through similar battles who aren’t as fortunate to have the same support system.
Tear-jerker: Eddie Olczyk makes emotional and brief return to the booth with Pat Foley
— NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSChicago) October 8, 2017
In addition to being an ambassador for hockey, Eddie Olczyk can now be an ambassador for so much more. He can raise awareness, encourage routine preventative medical appointments and inspire those walking down the same path. While he does, he’ll often be reminded of how much we miss him and look forward to the day he returns to his perch high above the NHL ice.