During the first intermission of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 5-4 win against the Seattle Kraken on Sunday, Eddie Olczyk emerged from behind a door marked “KRAKEN TV.”
Watching the former Hawks color analyst walk out of the visitors’ booth at the United Center is like watching a Seattleite drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
It was Olczyk’s first return to UC to call a Kraken game as part of the Roots Sports crew.
“It’s an emotional time for sure,” Olczyk told the Tribune. “You know, it’s kind of a feeling when you get traded … and you play against your team again for the first time. Once you get traded, like I did (when the Hawks traded Olczyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs in September 1987 ), you have a little more experience.”
Sometimes I searched for words to express what I felt when I returned to UC.
“You know, some of them, they’re still new and fresh,” he said. “I mean, I miss home, for sure. I miss being here. But (I have) great guys to work with and a great team. And so I’m just doing what I know how to do.
“Once the game starts, you get into that part. So it’s nice to see a lot of familiar faces here today.”
Olczyk sent shock waves through hockey circles in July when he announced he would not be returning to the Hawks’ television booth for a 17th season.
The stunner coincided with the news that he signed with the Kraken alongside play-by-play man John Forslund. A month later, the Kraken hired Olczyk’s son, Nick, as a television and radio analyst, similar to the roles he held for the Hawks last season.
Eddie Olczyk said at the time that he had reached an impasse with the Hawks over his contract.
The Hawks responded that they believed they had an agreement on an extension that was ready for Olczyk to sign, and his change of heart caught them completely off guard.
That explanation did little to slow down the PR that beat the Hawks losing “Eddie O.”
“There are always two sides to every story,” Olczyk said. “I love the fans here (in Chicago), I always will. They made me feel so special as a player and as a broadcaster. I’m from here, and I’ll always be proud of it. … But I would just say it was the my decision to leave the opportunity that presented itself. The team will be here much longer than I will be.
“It’s an emotional moment, emotional for me, emotional for the team, emotional for the fans. But everyone will think what they want. And I just hope everyone understands that it ended up being a business and lifestyle decision that I made for a lot of different reasons.
“I decided to take a step back and explore other opportunities.”
Olcyzk saw several members of the Hawks, including general manager Danny Wirtz, in Denver when he called the Hawks’ opener against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 12 for TNT.
“I gave Danny a big hug and I saw (Hawks president) Rocky (Wirtz),” Olczyk said.
Danny Wirtz told the Tribune last week: “They were hugging and kissing and wanting to hear what life is like in Seattle and giving her a few shots to miss the Chicago winter and all that stuff.
“But he’s with a lot of his family — his brother, his kids (are) out there, so it’s a very different situation. You know, there’s different stages as an organization, so it’s a great opportunity for him. We’re so happy for him. He knows he’s always a Blackhawk forever.”
President of business operations Jaime Faulkner added: “We want the best for Eddie and fully respect and understand his decision.”
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Among the friends and colleagues Olczyk said he reconnected with at UC were Patrick Sharp, one of his replacements as a Hawks TV analyst, John Wiedeman, director of security Brian Higgins, and Frankie, the manager of the parking lot on the ground floor. ”
“Change is always new, but it definitely helps when you have a lot of familiar faces,” Olczyk said. “Especially when I’m in Seattle.”
In addition to Nick, Olczyk’s brother Ricky is Kraken’s assistant general manager and his son Eddie Jr. is an amateur explorer.
“Both my kids and my brother, and (general manager) Ronnie Francis, we were roommates together in Pittsburgh … and I’ve played hundreds of games with Johnny Forslund,” Olcyzk said.
However, “my wife is here (in Chicago), the grandchildren are here, my other children are here,” he said. “For everything to come together in that whole part of me taking the opportunity there (in Seattle).”
This won’t be the last time Hawks fans will see Olczyk, who will call at least one more game on TNT.
“It’s going to come back to our building and several times for national games and a couple of other things we have up our sleeves,” Faulkner said. “So our fans will be able to see him in different roles at Blackhawks games this year.”