8:32 AM CDT, July 12, 2012
One of the best ambassadors a sport could ask forjust earned one of his sport’s highest honors.
One of the best salesmen for a league that needs it was just named to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Congratulations, Eddie Olczyk, local hero, class act, national star.
Olczyk earned induction with Mike Modano, the highest-scoring U.S.-born player in NHL history, and Lou Lamoriello, who orchestrated three Stanley Cups for the Devils. But Olczyk is hardly the third star of this game.
His 342 goals rank among the top 10 U.S.-born scorers in NHL history. His 16 NHL seasons and Stanley Cup with the 1994 Rangers tell you he had a big career.
But the Blackhawks and NBC gave him a microphone, and he has become the best analyst in hockey, maybe the best in any sport.
This is not hyperbole of the moment, getting excited to see a great guy receive a great honor. This also is not a product of suffering through part of an All-Star Game that included Tim McCarver. This is just the truth.
Baseball broadcasting done right is about filling time with strategy and stories. Hockey analysis starts with brevity, squeezing in a point in the time it takes Duncan Keith to Jonathan Tows with a home-run pass. But the marvel of Olczyk amid that seeming madness is his ability to slow down the fastest team sport on the planet.
Olczyk doesn’t miss a thing on the ice and deftly explains what happened and why. Everybody is watching the puck, but usually there is some key to a play that is happening maybe 100 feet away. Olczyk sees it, notes it and promptly telestrates it. We all get smarter.
But here’s the thing: Olczyk’s brilliance is anticipating coaching and player moves the way Steve Stone tells you which pitch will work and why, and then it does.
Being smart enough to know what happened is one thing. Being sharp enough to predict what will happen is another. But handling big moments with the poise and professionalism they deserve is something else.
I’m still wondering how Olczyk kept it together in front of a live mic on June 9, 2010.
To recap, the team for which he rooted as a kid, the team for which he wanted to play, the team for which he in fact did play --- that team had just won the Stanley Cup in overtime. It had been 49 years, which, if you’re keeping score at home, included all of Olczyk’s rooting life, playing career, coaching episode and broadcasting ventures. The Blackhawks were about halfway to being the Cubs, and Olczyk’s a big sports fan, so he knows Cubness.
And then, bang.
Patrick Kane slipped the puck under Michael Leighton and into eternity. The Hawks had won the Stanley Cup. You would’ve expected a yell or a scream from Olczyk. At least a “Yeah!’’
But no. Nothing like it came out of Olczyk’s NBC mic. Whatever his ties to the team that ended almost three generations of futility, they weren’t evident on a national broadcast. For all you young hockey analysts out there, that’s how the pros do it.
The honor is much deserved for the depth and breadth of Olczyk’s hockey life. He played as a kid. He skated with the best at the sport’s highest levels. He never missed a chance to represent the United States in international competition. He seems tireless in working with young players at rinks around Chicagoland.
And you know what else? Once you get past the guys in the sweaters, Olczyk’s broadcasting ubiquity arguably make him the face and voice of hockey. If not THE face and voice, he’s certainly one of the starting forwards.
Olczyk sells a sport he loves. The sport just loved him back. I assume the plaque will read “Stop it right there!’’
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