Eddie Olczyk is getting ready for his new surroundings.
The 56-year-old joined the Seattle Kraken broadcast team after being color analyst for the Chicago Blackhawks the past 16 seasons. So, how does it feel making such a big move? Weird? Different? Exciting?
“To answer your question, yes, yes and yes,” Olczyk said with a laugh. “I know quite a few of the players there, but a lot of guys I don’t have a relationship with. When you’re in one place as I was here forever, you build a relationship and you have a track record. Players come, players go and players talk and coaches talk and trainers talk. You have to build up that respect and that trust and that’s what I’m going to have to do going to Seattle.
“There are many, many emotions and it’s just going to be exciting. I get a chance to be around my brother (Rick Olczyk, Kraken assistant general manager), and obviously (my son) Nick will be there (as a broadcaster). I’m just going to go there and try to do what I’ve done my whole broadcasting career and have fun and entertain and try to talk about the greatest game in the world.”
NHL.com recenlty caught up with Olczyk. He discussed joining the Kraken, what drew him to horse racing, professional wrestling and more.
You and Kraken play-by-play announcer John Forslund have worked together a lot on the national level. What’s it going to be like to be his regular partner in Seattle and why do you guys mesh so well?
“That was obviously a huge part of this, him and J.T. (Brown, Kraken analyst) did a really nice job last year together in the first year. You’re right: Johnny and I have done at least 150 or 200 games together over our careers and never on the home side. I think we understand each other and we play off each other extremely well. We have similar personalities and love to have fun. It is about the trust factor, right? Your partner has your back and you have his.
“When you hear Johnny’s call, he just has an incredible call and it draws you into it, whether you’re a fan or you’re his partner or you’re a casual viewer. Johnny’s the leader, Johnny’s the captain, he’s got seniority. I just think he knows when it’s his time and he knows how to set up his partners and knows how to get the best out of everybody. That’s an ultimate leader.”
Video: Eddie Olczyk joins the show
You mentioned working with your brother. How long have you been waiting to do that?
“Obviously, this last year has been very difficult. We lost my mom [Diana] a year ago. It’s been hard, especially with Ricky commuting between here (Chicago) and Seattle and him being our leader, with everything going on when you lose a loved one. I think we’ve always talked about it and thought about it. We just didn’t know at what level it was going to be because we never played together. But I think at the highest level and the best league in the world, to have that chance to be around him and travel with him, especially after a real difficult time for all of us, just didn’t know if it was going to happen but it is and just really excited.
“I roomed with ‘Ronnie’ (Kraken general manager Ron Francis) when we were in Pittsburgh when we played together, so I’ve known Ronnie for a long time. That was a big part of the decision ultimately [to join Seattle]. Lots of things go into the decision making but at the end of the day, Seattle made me too good of an offer and I get an opportunity to work around my brother. It’s going to be, in a sense, therapeutic for both of us.”
Switching topics, where does your love of horse racing come from?
“I caught it as a young kid. A kid I played hockey with, Danny Kwilas, was a goalie; we played together on many a team growing up here in Chicago, in the suburbs and on travel teams. His dad, the late Tony Kwilas, he was a horse player and he brought us to the track one day, I think we were 12 or 13 and I just fell in love with the equine athlete, these majestic animals traveling 30-35 miles per hour down a racetrack, and you’ve got these crazy human beings on the back of them. Then you start learning about the game and what it takes to take care of these incredible equine athletes and then the handicapping part. I fell in love with it the first day I ever went to old Arlington [Park].
“I actually got my first TV job in horse racing in the fall of 1994, after we won the Stanley Cup (with the New York Rangers). We had a work stoppage the following season and the people at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, N.J. were big Rangers fans. I brought the Stanley Cup there and they hired me to do handicapping and in-house simulcasting for their horse racing in the fall of ’94. That’s how I got the introduction into television.”
Your former Blackhawks broadcast partner Pat Foley called the Chicago Cubs game when they played the St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 23. What did you think?
“I loved it, loved it. I was very jealous and envious of ‘JD’ (Cubs broadcaster Jim Deshaies) there. I wanted to drive down to Wrigley and jump in his chair, sit next to Pat, get a shot of someone having some soft serve out there in the bleachers or get the telestrator out and maybe show the pitch track or the K zone. I was so proud of him because I know that’s something he’s always wanted to do. When you love and respect somebody and they get an opportunity to fulfill a dream, that was awesome.”
Besides hockey, have you ever had the desire to call another sport?
“I would probably say baseball. I would say WWE would be a very close second because I’ve always been a big wrestling guy, but baseball was a huge love and passion. I love baseball. If that would ever arise, then I would take a swing at it, no pun intended. I’ve had people say, ‘would you want to call a horse race?’ I would do it for charity or something.”
Who’s your favorite wrestler?
“I became friendly with Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart back in the day. I’m going old school, I’m going back to the days of Pepper Gomez, Dick the Bruiser, Ernie Ladd and Ox Baker. I have a great picture in my office: Ox Baker was a legendary wrestler for many years, he was probably 6-5, probably 300 pounds, bald head, had a big, big Fu Manchu. Just a massive man. So, I was a rookie with the Blackhawks and I was coming down the escalator at the baggage claim at O’Hare (Airport), and as I’m coming down, I see this guy standing with a briefcase, a mountain of a man and I’m like, ‘man, that looks like Ox Baker.’ So, I come flying down the stairs, he turns into me, I look at him and say, ‘Ox Baker?’ He says, ‘Yeah. Want a picture?’ So, he opens up his briefcase, he has his tights in there, he has his brass knuckles, some tape and then he has about 50 or 100 8×10 glossies of him in a wrestling pose. All he writes is, ‘To Eddie. Ox’ and he hands it to me and walked away. That was the last time I ever saw him in person and I’ve still got that picture in my office.”
Your schedule was crazy enough when you were in Chicago. How hectic is it going to be now?
“Until I see what the national schedule is, logistics are going to play a big part of this and Seattle understands. Before I got sick (diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer on Aug. 8, 2017), I was trying to be a hero and do five games in six nights, three in three in three different cities. But I’m getting up there in age, I’ve got the grandkids around the corner, my dad is by himself now. There are a lot of things that are very important. At times, I’m sure it’s going to be long but get on the road and it’s no different than other times when we were on the ‘Circus Trip’ and having to bounce back and forth between east coast and west coast. All of a sudden there are 12 days and you’re only home for a day and a half, I can say hi to [my wife] Diana and get on the road.
“TNT has been unbelievable through this whole process, so I thank them for going through the steps with us with the understanding that they hold priority over everything. I got the best of both worlds when I was here. The Blackhawks were unbelievable when I was doing that, and I think they thought it was good for everybody. They were very accommodating, and I’ll be forever grateful for that and Seattle’s going to be the same. Weather, health-wise, knock on wood, hopefully I can do as many games as I can. Logistically it’s going to be more challenging, but I have support of the team and Johnny and J.T. and TNT, so we’ll make it work.”
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