His own brush with mortality isn’t something new Kraken television voice Eddie Olczyk takes lightly; a well-chronicled bout with Stage 3 colon cancer not too long ago he wasn’t certain he’d survive.
But although that scare made him want to fight for the things he already appreciated, the death last summer of Olczyk’s mother, Diana, reminded him there was still more he’d like to do. He’d thought about it plenty while mourning with his younger brother, Ricky, a Kraken assistant general manager, and the rest of his close-knit family in their Chicago hometown, where onetime NHL center Olczyk spent years as a Blackhawks player and 15 more as a broadcaster working their games.
And coming out of those heavy days, entering the final year of his Blackhawks broadcast deal, Olczyk, 55, decided there was a remaining hockey dream he’d like to fulfill if afforded the opportunity.
“We’d just lost our mom … and it was always something Ricky and I had kind of talked about,” Olczyk, a 16-year NHL veteran and U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer, said over coffee this week at the Kraken Community Iceplex during a brief stopover in Seattle. “We’d never played together, never worked on a team together because of the age and stuff. But that had some major play in it.”
And so, when extension talks with the Blackhawks snagged this summer, Olczyk didn’t hesitate when his brother’s team made their pitch. He’ll join the ROOT Sports booth alongside incumbent Kraken play-by-play voice John Forslund — a former NBC Sports teammate on national broadcasts — and analyst JT Brown.
“To be around Ricky is big, because I don’t always get the chance,” Olczyk said of his brother, who was a team captain at Brown University and used his law degree to break into the NHL, serving as an AGM in Edmonton and Carolina. “And it’s been hard with my mother. Ricky has been the [family] captain and caretaker of my dad. Anytime you lose a family member, especially a parent, you need the one captain to take the bull by the horns, and Ricky’s done that.
“So to be around him more, I know my mom is smiling, which makes us all feel pretty good.”
And he isn’t just reuniting with his brother. His son, Eddie Jr., who played junior hockey with Brown in the USHL, was already a Kraken scout, while his other son, Nick, has also joined the ROOT broadcast crew. And then there’s general manager Ron Francis, who was roommates with Olczyk in the final season for both with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1997-98.
It was five years ago last month that Olczyk announced he was stepping away from NBC work to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The grueling ordeal, chronicled in his “Beating the Odds: In Hockey and in Life” book co-authored with Perry Lefko, ended in March 2018 when he announced on-air he was cancer-free.
“People always ask me with the cancer whether I look at things differently now than I did before I was sick,” Olczyk said. “And the one thing I guess I’m proud and excited to say is that I don’t.
“For me, what it did was it reassured me that I was in a pretty good place before I was sick. And so when I got sick, there’s some peace with that.”
Olczyk said details for the planned three-man setup remain in flux. They could have him, Forslund and Brown in the same booth — depending on the size of an arena’s broadcast area — or have one working from a different vantage point.
And Olczyk is still awaiting a finalized national broadcast schedule from TNT before he knows which ROOT games he’ll do. He’s still commuting between coasts, keeping an Eastside apartment for when he’s working here.
His son, Nick, has rented near him, but on a more permanent basis as he develops Kraken content across TV, radio and digital platforms. Olczyk’s son spent four seasons as a radio analyst on ECHL Indy Fuel broadcasts. He also did interim Blackhawks radio work last season after their analyst, Troy Murray, was diagnosed with cancer.
Midway through a radio broadcast last January, Nick made an emergency TV debut filling in for his dad, who was taken to a hospital with what turned out to be a minor illness.
“He used to drive from Chicago to Indianapolis to make 50 bucks a game,” Olczyk said. “He did over 200 games in Indy and got an unbelievable opportunity when my former linemate, Troy, got sick. I never dreamed he’d make it to the NHL this fast, and it was an unfortunate circumstance. But the Kraken really liked what they saw and felt he could be their Swiss Army knife, so to speak.”
Toward the end of this week’s interview, Olczyk’s son emerged from the Kraken’s offices to get his dad for a scheduled broadcast meeting. There’s plenty of work ahead perfecting this season’s setup for a second-year Kraken fan base quite different from the “Original Six” market he left behind.
“There’s a hockey history here, but you always have to assume there’s somebody new watching,” Olczyk said. “They may not know what an icing is, or a specific slang in hockey. And it’s OK to get that in there. But the one thing we’ll have is great conversation. So, it’s going to be fun.”
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