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Eddie Olczyk wants to coach again

Eddie Olczyk coached Pittsburgh Penguins before being fired 2005. | Getty Images

Eddie Olczyk coached the Pittsburgh Penguins before being fired in 2005. | Getty Images

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Updated: March 19, 2014 6:21AM



SOCHI, Russia — Eddie Olczyk is where he often is, looking down at an ice rink. It’s Monday afternoon at Shayba Arena, where the night before he had worked the U.S.-Slovenia men’s Olympic hockey game for NBC Sports.

Olczyk is exceptional as a TV analyst. If you’re a Blackhawks fan, you know it from his work on Comcast SportsNet Chicago and Channel 9. If you’re an NHL fan, you know it from the games he does for NBC and NBC Sports Network. If you’re new to hockey and happen to catch a game he’s working, consider yourself very lucky. He has a gift for being able to help newcomers learn the sport without alienating hardcore fans.

Several times during a game, you’ll hear him say, ‘‘For you young hockey players out there . . . ,’’ and then he’ll launch into a pucks lesson. It’s not a network edict. It’s a passion of his. It’s also a hint.

Five thousand, seven hundred miles from home, Olczyk is talking about the urge to coach again, the one that keeps tugging at his sleeve. If the right job came along at the minor-league or college level, he says he would be interested.

He is not politicking for a job. He says he loves the one he has as a broadcaster, calling it ‘‘an unbelievable chair that I sit in every night.’’ He had offers in the past to be an assistant coach at the NHL level but turned them down because he had four children at home. With his youngest off playing junior hockey, his life is different now, freer.

There has been something missing since a cheap, impatient Penguins management team fired him in 2005 after two-plus years with the organization.

‘‘There still is that burning desire and that hole that is not filled from the ending in Pittsburgh,’’ Olczyk says. ‘‘It may not happen, but I think it’s healthy to always want to have goals. For me, the teaching aspect is what I love the most.’’

One of his goals is to coach and run a minor-league team, to help lay a foundation on the ice and in the front office, to be hands-on and to learn the business at every level. That was the whole idea in the first place, before fate stepped in.

In 2003, he interviewed to be the coach of the Penguins’ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton American Hockey League affiliate. He did so well in the interview that they offered him the job coaching the NHL team. It was a bad team selling the proverbial ‘‘five-year plan.’’ He didn’t get to finish it. He got fired 31 games into Sidney Crosby’s rookie year, which seems like cruel and unusual punishment.

‘‘There is still an emptiness,’’ he says. ‘‘There are very few people who know my desires and my feelings of where I am and where I want to get to, but there’s certainly an aspiration there. So if it would present itself, that’s where I would want to go. It might not happen. Who knows? What I wanted to do back in ’03 is where I’d like to go if I got the opportunity.’’

Between his Blackhawks and NBC duties, Olczyk works about 120 games a year. It’s a good life. It carries its own pressures, but rarely does it threaten to rip out Olczyk’s heart, the way coaching jobs almost always do. So why mess with happiness?

‘‘I miss figuring out the losses, how to handle the success, being in the battle with the guys, the corrections, the teaching,’’ he says. ‘‘Once you’re a player for as long as I was and then into coaching, there’s nothing like it. That’s one of the reasons I want to get back.’’

He gets a taste of teaching on the broadcasts, as well as at the Hawks’ youth-hockey camps. He coached the United States’ under-18 team in 2006 and loved it. Several players from that team, including the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh, made it to the NHL. He enjoyed coaching the Penguins’ Brooks Orpik when Orpik was a rookie.

‘‘You’d like to think you had an impact, whether it was on the ice or off,’’ Olczyk says. ‘‘That’s the one thing that I really miss. It is a goal. Is it something I’m pursuing? No, definitely not. But there may come a time where it might be something that I might want to jump back into.’’

He is 47 and has done it all — or most of it — in hockey. He played 16 NHL seasons, including five with his hometown Hawks, who chose him third overall in the 1984 draft. He was an Olympian. He’s in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He has been a Hawks broadcaster for eight years.

But what about coaching again in the NHL?

‘‘Anybody that is coaching or managing at any level below the best league in the world, you always have that ultimate goal,’’ he says. ‘‘I’ve been there as a player, I’ve been there as a broadcaster and I was there as a coach. I don’t think there’s any doubt that, if the opportunity would present itself, that [would be something to consider].

‘‘Ultimately, I’m not sure, to be very honest. But if that path would open, I think I would be able to tell in a very short period of time if that’s for me.’’

However this plays out, hockey wins.



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