Tommy Olczyk Thriving at Penn State
Former Penguins player, coach and broadcaster Eddie Olczyk has been to Pittsburgh many times since the NHL club moved to their new home, CONSOL Energy Center, in 2010.
Usually, Olczyk is here in a working capacity as he is the lead game analyst for NHL on NBC and NHL on NBC Sports Network and the game analyst for Chicago Blackhawks television broadcasts on CSN.
But this past weekend, Olczyk was in Pittsburgh for a special reason that had nothing to do with work. He was there to watch his son Tommy play hockey.
Tommy Olczyk is the captain of Penn State University’s men’s ice hockey team, in its first season as an NCAA Division I squad. The Nittany Lions were in town to participate in the inaugural Three Rivers Classic tournament on Dec. 28 and 29 at CONSOL Energy Center, and Eddie Olczyk couldn’t be happier to be watching his son from the stands.
“Any time I come in here is usually when I’m working,” Eddie smiled. “But to come in here and get a chance to see Tommy play, it’s a great opportunity. We couldn’t be more proud of him.
“For him too, coming back here – Tommy lived here in Pittsburgh for I guess almost six years. He was a member of the community as a real young guy and came back in his high school years and went to Chartiers Valley. So it’s exciting for him to come back and to know this area.”
Tommy first resided in the Pittsburgh area when his dad got traded to the Penguins in March, 1997, attending second grade here. After moving back to Chicago for a few years, the Olczyk family returned to Pittsburgh from 2000-05 when Eddie got hired first as a broadcaster and later as head coach of the Penguins.
Tommy, who played amateur hockey for the Pittsburgh Predators and high school hockey for Chartiers Valley, remembers spending time around the arena when he was younger. So for him, getting to come back here and play at the home of the Penguins is something special.
“It’s very cool,” said Tommy, a sophomore forward for the Nittany Lions. “You walk around and you get into the locker room and there’s pictures up of Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis and all the greats that have played here. It truly is an honor to step foot in here and to definitely step foot on the ice.”
“I’ve had some good years in Pittsburgh. I made a lot of good friends.”
Tommy, 22, has a great relationship with his dad, saying “there’s really no one better as a mentor I could have asked for. He played 16 years in the NHL. Any time I ever had any sort of issue, I could go to him.”
But while Eddie has had a big influence on his son and his playing career, Tommy has always made his own path for himself.
“Tommy loves his school, he loves his teammates, he thinks the coaching staff is terrific,” Eddie said. “When your kids are happy, you’re happy. At the end of the day, as a parent, that’s all you want. You provide for them and you want to give them opportunities, and it’s what they do with it once they get that chance. He’s doing really well.”
Tommy played four years for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League (USHL) from 2007-11, winning the league’s Curt Hammer Award, given to the player who distinguishes himself both on and off the ice by demonstrating outstanding performance skills, pride and determination, in his final season.
He joined the Nittany Lions the next season, their final year as a club hockey team before making the transition to the NCAA Division I level in 2012-13 after a $102 million donation from Buffalo Sabres owner and Penn State alum Terry Pegula made a dream become a reality.
Becoming a part of history was a big reason Olczyk made the decision to play for Penn State, but it wasn’t the only one.
“The biggest thing for me was coach (Guy) Gadowsky and the other coaches at Penn State expressed such interest in me as a player, a student and an athlete right away,” Olczyk said. “Every one of (Penn State’s) sports teams is competitive. Going in there, I knew it was just a matter of time before we become a powerhouse, so to speak. It might take another year for us to really establish ourselves, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we will.”
Transitioning from club hockey to Division I hockey does come with growing pains. And knowing that the program chose Olczyk to lead it through both the highs and the lows as the captain was a huge honor for him.
“It’s unbelievable,” Olczyk said of wearing the “C” on his jersey. “We had a team vote for it. When the coach told us, a big part of me was surprised. But the other part of me was very humbled and very honored that the guys would look to me in that way. I might not show up on the scoresheet every night, but I try to go out and I work hard. I love to kill penalties and block shots and bring some energy out there. If you’re named captain, you can’t switch your game because there’s a reason they voted you.”
Penn State is playing an independent schedule this season, but will be the newest member of the Big Ten hockey conference in 2013-14. And after losing to Robert Morris, 6-0, on Dec. 28, Penn State rebounded for a meaningful 5-4 win over future league opponent Ohio State in the consolation game on Dec. 29.
Overall, the Three Rivers Classic tournament was a worthwhile experience for
Penn State’s burgeoning hockey team – and Eddie Olcyzk hopes he’ll be able to watch his son play here again in the future.
“I know all the schools are really appreciative of everybody at CONSOL and everyone with the Penguins pursuing and getting the opportunity for college hockey to be here, with the Frozen Four here (in 2013) as well,” he said. “It’s certainly a great tie-in. So hopefully this is something that we can be a part of for a long time.”