Eddie Olczyk talks winning fight against cancer and “One More Shift”
by Scott King
There couldn’t have been a more perfect stage for Blackhawks fans and the organization to salute one of their most treasured former players on Sunday night, Palos Heights native Eddie Olczyk. Olczyk was a member of the Blackhawks from 1984-1987 after being selected by the Hawks at number three overall in the 1984 NHL Draft.
At last year’s “Hockey Fights Cancer” night, he was receiving chemotherapy for stage three colon cancer. Now, he’s cancer free.
“I think for me, I never had a chance to really say ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’ when I retired in 2000 for whatever reason,” Olczyk said. “It’s kind of 18 years in the making. I think they’ll be great closure, but also on this incredible day and the initiative with the league, to kind of tie it in altogether and considering personally where I was a year ago today, it’ll mean a lot and very thankful for the Blackhawks and Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough, Jay Blunk, the entire staff, just to allow me to have one more shift will mean a lot.
“I’m sure a lot of things will be going through my head and I’ve only had about 7,000 people tell me not to fall. There are no speed bumps out there, they don’t need that. I’m not going to be going that fast, I know that. But it’s a great honor.”
Olczyk, 52, seemed to skate pretty fast when he was announced, raising his stick to salute the fans, while appearing emotional in front of the 21,000 plus on their feet to give a well-deserved standing ovation.
It’s not Edzo the former player, the Stanley Cup champion (with New York Rangers, 1994) or the beloved broadcaster that has been making the biggest difference in fan’s lives the past year, but Edzo the cancer survivor.
Before taking to the United Center ice for “One More Shift” prior to Chicago’s 3-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, Olczyk hosted the team’s “Hockey Fights Cancer” festivities in the United Center atrium.
“I do believe, and we do believe as a family, that our purpose in life now is to share my story, to help inspire one person that’s either in the battle, going through the battle or helping support somebody,” Olczyk said. “Maybe down the road, somebody will say my biggest impact on our community was off the ice and away from the rink, and you know what, that’s okay.
“There’s nothing like knowing people feel good and that is all a part of going through what I did, getting incredible support and couldn’t have done it by myself. Now it’s my job and my family’s job to inspire people. Even if it’s just for a day or a month. It’s always with you, whether you’re in the battle or you’re outside the chemo or you’re cancer free. That cancer will always be with you. You got to take it head on.”
Eddie credits his family, friends and fans to helping him win his battle. Someone who stood with him throughout his fight was his partner in the broadcast booth, Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Pat Foley.
“Well Pat’s an incredible friend and there wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t reach out or come visit or text or call,” Olczyk said. “It meant the world. To come back and the Blackhawks giving me an open canvas to work when I felt like I could, it helped. It helped pass the time to do what I love to do and be in that comfort zone with Pat.
“I wasn’t around a lot and Stevie (Steve Konroyd) did a great job for me and I think the chemistry there is absolutely incredible. The honesty that we work [with]… The way we are on the air is the way we are off the air and I think that’s what transcends us. It’s not an easy chair to sit in when you’re sitting next to a Hall of Famer. When you hear Pat Foley’s voice you know it’s Blackhawk hockey.
“Because I grew up listening to him with Dale doing the games for so many years. We try to, regardless if it’s the shoutouts we give or saying hello to somebody that may be watching or tuning in just to brighten up their day, and that’s something the team is so amazing with, is that they don’t mind if we try to personalize what we’re doing up there. Regardless of the score, regardless of the situation, to give somebody a shoutout during a game means a lot. If we can make that smile a little bit bigger then we did a good job in the broadcast booth.”
Before announcing the “Hockey Fights Cancer” honorees, Eddie shared some of his story with the large crowd sporting purple jerseys and other attire.
“There were times when I was going through my chemo treatments where I wondered, ‘How am I going to get through six months let along 24 hours,'” he told the crowd. “And my wife of 30 years looked at me when I was down and said, ‘Fight for me. Fight for our kids. And fight for all the people that love you.'”
After his hosting duties, Olczyk greeted countless fans who attended the event. One particular couple had special meaning to him, the parents of Lauren Graver, the 10-year-old who lost her battle with cancer less than one month after joining Eddie for a ceremonial puck drop at last year’s “Hockey Fights Cancer” night.
“Hearing their stories,” Olczyk responded when asked what he was saying to the fans he greeted. “Last year when I was a part of the “Hockey Fights Cancer” I was a part of it with Lauren Graver a young girl that we lost a couple of weeks after our “Hockey Fights Cancer” night at the United Center, and her mom or dad were there and the jersey that I gave Lauren that I wore for “Hockley Fights Cancer” last year, her dad had on here tonight.
“To just let them know that we continue to support them and let them know that Lauren made a huge impact on us as people, us as an organization and our community for her fight, when you think about her battle of muscle cancer. So just to hear people’s stories to meet them, to let them know that we support them is what it’s all about.”
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