Eddie Olczyk’s son Nick tags in for dad on Hawks broadcast originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
If you turned on the Blackhawks game during the third period on Saturday against Minnesota, you might not have heard anything too different from the man sitting next to Pat Foley in the broadcast booth.
The voice. The personality. The insight. It all sounded pretty familiar, right? That’s because it was … sort of.
Eddie Olczyk's son Nick, who has been one of the radio color analyst fill-ins for Troy Murray this season, made his television debut that night and anybody watching and listening could notice the resemblance with his dad. The circumstances that led to that point, however, were less than ideal and it made for a whirlwind of a debut.
Before the game, Eddie was going through his normal preparation but wasn't feeling very well. It eventually reached a point where he had to be evaluated by doctors — which included Minnesota's Sheldon Burns, who had known Eddie since he was a teenager when the two of them were part of Team USA — just minutes before the broadcast was set to kick off.
"I've just been fighting a lot of medical issues over the last handful of weeks," Eddie told NBC Sports Chicago. "And I got a pretty good scare on Saturday where everything kind of just came together unfortunately."
Nick was aware his dad wasn't feeling 100 percent but didn't realize the magnitude of the situation until minutes before puck drop. He was live on the radio recording a segment with WGN Radio's Joe Brand on the pregame show when he noticed Foley walk into the room and converse with radio play-by-play announcer John Wiedeman.
"They both had concerned looks on their faces," Nick said.
But Nick continued on with his point on the air. He turned back around, saw Foley leave and noticed Wiedeman writing something down on a sheet of paper.
"He hands it to me as I'm in the middle of talking about the game and it says: 'Your dad is ill, you need to go do TV,'" Nick said. "I sit there and I'm in the middle of making a point about what to look for in the Blackhawks game tonight against the Wild and how they can bounce back with a better effort and all of a sudden I see the note, I'm like: 'Holy cow.' So of course my mind starts racing into a million different things."
Nick wrapped up his thoughts, took off his headset, quickly packed up his things then sprinted to the television booth, which was about four or five doors down. At that point, Foley was in front of the camera, mic in hand and getting ready to go live on the air within the next minute or two.
While this is happening, Eddie has no idea that Nick is preparing to step in. He was in another room being assessed and didn't realize a backup plan had been formulating behind the scenes.
"I walk back to the booth and I hear Pat bringing us on: ‘Welcome to Blackhawks hockey…’ and then we were going to show the video clips of Coach Derek King, Connor Murphy and Kirby Dach from the night before,” Eddie said. “And then I see Nicky standing there. Like, Nicky was getting ready to go on the air with Pat.
"I came in and the video's running of the guys and it's like 15 seconds, so I put my earpiece in, I grab the mic and I told Nick: 'I'll be fine, I'll do it.’ Then Nicky took his bag, he walked out and then Pat brought me in, we did the open — we had no rehearsal that night — everything was fine, smooth.”
Eddie gutted out the first period without any real issue but still feeling a bit off. The second period was a different story.
"As the period went on, I just was not feeling great and I told Pat as soon as the period ended, 'I need to go see the doc again,’” Eddie said. "That’s when Dr. Burns and Dr. Brad Merk — the Blackhawks’ doctor — just said: ‘You need to go to the hospital.’”
That's also when Nick had to tag in, this time for real.
"As my dad is on the way out the door, he gives me a hug and kiss and says: 'Call your mom and let her know what's going on,'" Nick said. "So I called her, let her know, and then I got a tap on my shoulder — I don't remember who it was — but they said, 'You've got to do TV.' And I'm sitting there going, 'Oh my God.' It was an unbelievably surreal moment, and not in a way I could have ever imagined."
There wasn't much time, either, for Eddie to prep his 25-year-old son for the moment, even though Nick was probably ready for it anyway.
"I just told Nick: 'Good luck, sorry you're getting thrown into this,'" Eddie said. "Obviously he's coming in relief — he's actually like Kevin Lankinen from the night before coming in for Flower. But he's coming in, going from radio to TV, which is obviously a massive change, but also too it's his first opportunity on TV and, oh by the way, his dad's going to the hospital. So I'm sure for him it was a real whirlwind to think he was going to start the game and then he didn't and then he came in relief."
Nick handled it about as well as anybody could have under those circumstances.
"Pat was so unbelievable in including me and letting everybody know what was going on and just that whole period," Nick said. "You couldn't have dreamt that, you couldn't have scripted it, you couldn't have predicted it. But just to be thrown into the fire, and not just thrown into the fire in your first game doing TV in the NHL, but meanwhile your dad is in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, so for me, I think it's safe to say about three-fourths of my brain was nowhere near the Xcel Energy Center.
"But with the fourth that I had left, I was trying to focus on the game and just tried to do the best that I could and give the Blackhawks fans something to watch and listen to with everything that was going on."
After the game, Nick received positive reports from his dad, who stayed overnight at a Minnesota hospital. Eddie was scheduled to do Monday's game against Colorado but wasn't in any condition to do so, which meant Nick's number was being called again.
Unsurprisingly, Nick looked like a natural. And this time Eddie got to watch it live.
"It took our family's breath away," Eddie said. "Seeing him up there and obviously knowing that Pat had him and was going to take care of him, that was very comforting and very soothing. That night was pretty special and Nicky certainly was on cloud nine. He made us proud.
"My wife and I are obviously huge fans of Nick, but my mom, she always told Nick that she knew that he was going to get to the NHL. I know she's extremely proud looking down at Nick. She's probably saying: 'I told you. I told you, Professor.' She always called Nicky, 'The Professor.' It's just been so surreal."
The reviews on social media were overwhelmingly positive, although there are certainly critics that will claim he's gotten an opportunity like this simply because of his last name. It's a fair point, but not many people are aware of the commitment and hard work he's put in behind the scenes.
Nick's full-time attention shifted to broadcasting after he closed the chapter on his playing career following his second year at Colorado College. Since then, he's spent the last several years wearing a bunch of different hats to help get him to this point.
Among the highlights: Nick drove to and from Indianapolis to call Indy Fuel games for the Blackhawks' ECHL team on weekends, which is about a three and a half-hour drive. He works as an associate producer for NBC Sports Chicago, where he helps identify potential film breakdowns and puts together video footage for the Blackhawks' pre- and post-game shows. He flies to and from Atlanta once a week to do the exact same thing on pre- and post-game shows on NHL on TNT. He worked in Stamford for the Tokyo Olympics and will do the same in February for the Beijing Olympics.
It's one thing to have doors open for you, but it's another to take advantage when the opportunities do present themselves.
"There are going to be people that say you didn't spend enough time in the minors and that could be a valid point," Nick said. "I've always been a big believer that, if you can play, you can play. Not only for the couple of years was I working three, four, five jobs at once, I was gaining incredible experience that's been able to help me now and make me a more well-rounded broadcaster. The only thing I ask of the audience is to judge me not by my name but by ability and performance."
All of the preparation he did behind the scenes helped him be ready for a moment like Saturday and Monday. Nick exuded confidence, displayed his hockey knowledge on a deeper level, and wasn't afraid to show his personality from the get-go, perhaps to a fault.
During the open on Monday, Nick provided a positive update on Eddie then concluded: "The good news is Pat, you still have an Olczyk, just a little younger and a tad better looking."
His dad, of course, wasn't going to let him get away with that.
"I didn't like the cheap shot there in the open, but that's OK," Eddie joked. "I changed the locks on him before he came home from Detroit, so he had a tough time getting in the house."