All in the Family: The Olczyk’s

Story posted November 29, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by Ross Insana

The Manning’s, the Ripken’s, the Sutter’s, the Griffey’s, the Hull’s and the Walton’s. What they all have in common is they are synonymous for being the most well-known “sports families” in the history of the four major professional sports in the United States: football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Their family lineage in their respective sports helped them not only become the players they were during their playing days, but to learn professionalism and how to conduct themselves.

Over the past year, the Penn State Men’s hockey program was lucky enough to get four student-athletes who have had a father or brother that has played professionally in the NHL. One of the players stands alone over the others not because of his family’s hockey ties in the tight-knit hockey community, but his important role on the team.

The Penn State sophomore and first-year captain of the 2012-2013 Penn State Men’s Hockey team, Tommy Olczyk, is not your typical captain that’s just the leader of the team. Sure he embodies the true leadership skills it takes to be the heart and soul of a team, especially one as historical as this inaugural season of the Penn State Nittany Lions Men’s hockey team.

Head coach Guy Gadowsky officially named Olczyk his captain on October 2 prior to the beginning of such a historical season. His captaincy, which was strongly emphasized by Coach Gadowsky, was determined through a player-only vote before the start of the season. This prestigious honor of being the first ever captain of the Penn State Men’s hockey program showed how highly his teammates thought of him both on and off the ice.

“To have the guys on your team vote you as their captain, it’s unbelievable that I can be making history like that. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates”, said Olczyk.

Assistant Coach Keith Fisher emphasized how “he does those little things that don’t always show up on the stat sheet that we want to do to create our identity as a team.”

“He’s a role model kid that you would want your daughter to marry”, said Fisher.

His father Eddie is known to most hockey fans as a television color commentator for NHL games on NBC and NBC Sports Network. He also holds that same position for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and has developed into one of the top television analysts in all of sports, not just hockey. He also had himself a great professional career of his own spending 16 seasons in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings. In his 1031 total NHL games played from 1984 until 2000, the elder Olczyk accumulated 342 goals and 452 assists. He also had a brief stint as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2003 until 2005 and was recently inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Oct. 15.

“He’s is my dad, but family aside he’s one of the brightest hockey minds out there and there’s nobody more deserving than him for the induction”, said Olczyk.

His older brother, Eddie Jr., is currently a senior forward at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and received an invitation with Tommy to the Carolina Hurricanes prospect camp over the summer. In addition, his uncle Rick is in his fifth season as Assistant General Manager and Director of Hockey Operations and Legal Affairs of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.

Many could say that having the Olczyk name connected to the Penn State Hockey program right now gives the team more national camaraderie. Nevertheless, the life of being the child of a professional athlete can in fact have its positives and negatives. Depending on the upbringing, expectations and a standard is set through the public eye based on their parents careers. Most importantly, the experiences some gain both directly and indirectly growing up in that atmosphere helps guide them in their future lives.

At the age of four, Olczyk said he strapped on his first pair of skates. “There was a little obligation when I was younger, but as I got older I started to fall in love with the game more,” he said. “

“There was no initial “push” for him to play hockey, but like most parents his father only wanted his son to be the best he could be. My dad was just trying to help me. Yes he’d get upset if I played a bad game, but only because he knew I could do better.”

There did come a point when he was a teenager that Olczyk admittedly said he was a better baseball player than hockey player and almost chose baseball.

In terms of the lifestyle growing up in a hockey family throughout his entire childhood, he stressed how it was difficult traveling so much.

“It was very tough on me. I went to countless elementary and middle schools while going to three different high schools. When I was younger I didn’t like moving so much. It seemed like I was always leaving friends and having to make new ones and I didn’t fit in right away.”

Nonetheless, it made him a stronger person and he got used to it as he grew older and left home as a young 16 year old to live on his own and play junior hockey in Sioux City, Iowa with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers for four seasons from 2007 until 2011. With that, living away from his family in Chicago at an early age for an extended period of time made his transition as a college student at Penn State seamless.

“Looking back on it, it only helped me grow closer to my family and I’ve got to meet some great people with all the traveling and hockey.”

Olczyk emphasizes how the most important lesson he learned from his father was “to never sell yourself short”. That it doesn’t matter what it is, you have to work as hard as you can.

“You don’t want to look back and have regrets that you could’ve worked harder or could’ve done something different”, said Olczyk.

Likewise, Olczyk’s teammate and school roommate, junior alternate captain Nate Jensen, also ended up taking the same road traveled as his father. His father David was a member of the 1984 United States Olympic hockey team with Olczyk’s father and appeared in 18 NHL regular season games between 1984 and 1987 with the former Minnesota North Stars.

Ross Insana is junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, e-mail rxi5007@psu.edu.