Eddie Olczyk

A Chicago native who grew up cheering on the Blackhawks, Eddie Olczyk's status as hometown hero was both a blessing and a curse.

Olczyk, along with another young American prodigy named Al Iafrate, crossed the border and played junior B hockey in Stratford, Ontario. He would not pursue junior hockey any further, instead focusing on making the 1984 US Olympic team. At the age of 17 he was the youngest American in Sarajevo. A center throughout his youth, he switched to play left wing on the "Diaper Line" with fellow American youngsters Pat LaFontaine and David A. Jensen. In six Olympic games he scored 9 points.

The Chicago Blackhawks made the local boy their first pick, third overall in the 1984 draft, directly behind Mario Lemieux and Kirk Muller, and ahead of the likes of Shayne Corson, Gary Roberts and Iafrate. The Hawks actually had to trade up from the 6th spot, offering Los Angeles goalie Bob Janecyk to swap picks. The Hawks then had to give New Jersey future considerations in order to assure the Devils would not take the native of Palos Heights, Illinois.

The hometown hero was an instant hit in Chicago.

"In my first game, I scored a goal and the fans started chanting my name like they used to for Tony Esposito. I'd never felt better in my whole life."

Olczyk settled in on Chicago's second line, the "Almost Clydesdales Line" with Troy Murray and Curt Fraser. With Murray just missing a 99 point season, Olczyk slipped in nicely with 20 goals and 50 points. In year two Eddie O scored 29 goals and 70 points, his best effort with the Hawks.

Being a Chicago native was both a source of pride and of stress for Olczyk. Reportedly his popularity and special treatment by media, sponsors and fans made some of his teammates envious. Olczyk, who was an emotional guy and perhaps a tad immature to handle all the pressures and benefits of his instant celebrity, suffered, turning in a third season with just 16 goals and 51 points.

The poor season precipitated a trade to Toronto where he would be reunited with Al Iafrate. Olczyk and aging warrior Al Secord went to Toronto in exchange for Steve Thomas and Bob McGill.

"I think he just got into the position here where he had a lot of pressure on him because he was the hometown kid. Maybe getting out was good for him," said Chicago teammate Bill Gardner.

Often centering a line with Mark Osborne and Gary Leeman, Olczyk turned in some good seasons in Toronto, a city where intense fan and media attention made it no easier to play from a pressure standpoint. But Olczyk did fine, scoring 42 goals and 75 points in his first season. One of several young guns that promised hope for long suffering Leafs faithful, Olczyk upped his totals to 90 and 88 points in years two and three, respectively.

The never-patient Leafs broke up the young team after repeated playoff failings. He was moved to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for tough guys Kris King and Tie Domi. Olczyk would put together one 30 goal year in the Manitoban capital, but a variety of injury problems would soon limit his effectiveness.

Olczyk moved on to the New York Rangers in time for the team's 1994 Stanley Cup championship. However Olczyk does not have his name on the Cup. He played less than the mandatory 40 games in the NHL that season due to a severe thumb injury.

Olczyk's vagabond days took him back to Winnipeg as well as Pittsburgh and Los Angeles before finding his way home to Chicago. He finished out his NHL career with two final season in the Windy City, retiring in 2000.

Ed Olczyk played in 1031 NHL games, scoring 342 goals, 452 assists and 794 points. He was blessed with natural hockey sense, although he was always more of a shooter than a playmaker. He suffered from constant shuffling between center and right wing, as he could have benefited learning one position only in his NHL career. A good skater with an excellent snapshot, Olczyk was known for occasional glaring defensive lapses and for not using his great size more to his advantage. He stayed away from high traffic zones, preferring to play on the perimeter.


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