- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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Recently, it was announced that Eddie Olczyk, a former first-round pick of the Blackhawks and current television analyst for the team, will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Olczyk scored 342 goals and produced 794 points in a 16-year career and was just one of seven players in a five year span (’87-’92) to score 30 or more goals in each season. At the recent Blackhawks fan convention-- at which he was master of ceremonies -- Olczyk sat down for a question and answer session about all things hockey including the team he played and now broadcasts for.
Jesse Rogers: Do you think your inclusion into the US Hockey Hall of Fame is purely due to your playing days or a culmination of all the things you’ve done in your career on and off the ice including promoting U.S. Hockey.
Eddie Olczyk: I’d like to think my numbers speak for themselves but I think the nine different times I represented our country as a player and then once as a coach, and the speaking engagements on behalf of US hockey, it’s probably everything under the umbrella. I’ve been involved with hockey in the U.S. since I was 17 … I’d like to think a lot of is player wise, but Ill certainly take the other aspects with it.
Did the last Olympics finally show the world USA Hockey has reached a more than respectable level?
EO: I think everybody before that knew how far we’ve come and how good of a country we are as far as playing the game. I think our top 50 players can compete on that world stage, but when you start talking top 100 or 200 players and you talk about our greatest rival its Canada. I still believe Canada’s greatest rival is the Russians. I believe that. As an alum that still bothers me but maybe it’s changing.
Let’s pivot right to Patrick Kane on this subject. While the World Championships were going on in early May a great player like him was kind of in the spotlight for other reasons. Would you have liked to seen him play in the championships?
EO: Oh, absolutely. I said it then and I’ll say it now: I was disappointed that he didn’t go. Now, I don’t know why. Health and personal reasons come into it but I think that’s where we, as USA hockey, we need all of our players to stop what they’re doing when that phone rings and no hesitation, you go. That’s the difference between Canada and the US, guys are stopping whatever they’re doing and going. And it’s been like this for a long time, we don’t have full cooperation from our players. Now I’m talking at levels below the Olympics. I was disappointed that he didn’t go and it obviously culminated with what happened on that May weekend. We need players like Kaner to go when they get called.
Let’s stay on the Hawks. And I preface this by saying I’m not asking you to make an assessment on Joel Quenneville but in general, can a good or even great coach have a bad year?
EO: Well first of all I think Joel is a great coach, and I wish I could have played for him but to answer your question, yes, great coaches can have off years. Great coaches can miss pushing the right buttons. Great players can have average years. I don’t think coaches are immune to slumps or poor decision making. All coaches at all levels, and Joel knows this, don’t always push the right buttons all the time but even when they do push the right buttons the players have to react. I played on the power play, I coached it, I have a good feel, the scheme is 50 percent. The other 50 percent is the player’s ability to ad-lib, take what is given and execute. I’m not on the side of the fence that power play is coaching. To me, it’s more the decision making by the players. And I lived it as a power play guy.
Let me segue then. What’s the normal course of action in the off-season when both special teams units had such down years? They already fired a coach. What else goes on?
EO: Let me emphasize I can only speak from my experience as a player and a coach, you start looking at ‘what is our philosophy?” Does the philosophy we use go hand-in-hand with the personnel? At the end of the day is the personnel the right people doing it? At the end of the day I would start with my philosophy then to the people doing it and break it down that way. Obviously, there was a disconnect somewhere. Most teams kill the same way. Not all but most teams have the same philosophy of being aggressive and pressuring.
Back to Joel. Do you get the sense, because he has more than intimated it, we are going to see a more stern coach this year?
EO: I would say that’s fair because of what’s happened the last couple of years. I don’t think there is a doubt, knowing the leadership and expectations of Rocky (Wirtz) and John (McDonough), unacceptable. Everybody reassesses who and what they are and finding a way. No excuses, just finding a way. I don’t think there is any doubt there needs to be more from some players. And I speak from experience, you can berate a player, you can call a player out in the media, the thing that really strikes a player is ice time. It hurts most when they’re not out there. So the philosophy of this organization as on outsider, to a certain extent, is what has transpired here the last couple of years is not acceptable. And their expectations are much higher.
Fill in the blank here. The core group needs to ….
EO: The core group needs to be more consistent. I would say the core group needs to take their game back to a level of more consistency. You need health, you need some depth, but at the end of the day these are the guys that are the engine.
Let’s go back to you. I’ve talked to people in hockey that think you would be good getting back into the game from a coaching or front office level. Any interest?
EO: Look, I love what I do. I thank John (McDonough and Jay (Blunk) for allowing me the flexibility in doing national television and I love working with Pat Foley but very few people know my feelings on that. Next question. Ha.
Ok, last thing, word association. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
EO: Finds a way to get it done.
EO: Great talent. Another level to go.
EO: Two cornerstones to build around
The Collective Bargaining Agreement
EO: Hope all understand the climate of society. We entertain.
The Pick Six
EO: Need to hit another one.
16dDarren Rovell and Katie Strang