By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The NHL lockout means that hockey doesn’t get much play on the air waves or the internet these days.
However, you probably saw the item about the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductions in which Mike Modano, Ed Olczyk and Lou Lamoriello all were enshrined.
Modano is often looked at as the best American-born offensive player in hockey history, while you have to look at Lamoriello and come to the conclusion that he’s a personnel genius for the way he keeps the under-financed New Jersey Devils in contention nearly every year.
But it’s Eddie O who deserves center stage.
Younger fans know him as the affable color analyst on Blackhawks games with Pat Foley and holding the same position with NBC on national games as he partners with Doc Emrick.
But he’s a lot more than a talking head. He has done it all and seen it all in hockey, beginning with his role on the 1984 U.S. Olympic Hockey team. That group followed the legendary 1980 team that won the gold medal by registering the greatest team sports upset of all time over the Soviet Union. That’s an act you don’t want to follow.
Olczyk went from there to the NHL and he had a wonderful 16-year career. He scored 342 goals and 794 points in his career and he was a Stanley Cup winner with the New York Rangers in 1994. Olczyk scored a career-high 42 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1987-88. He scored 30 goals or more five times in his career and he exceeded the 20-goal mark 11 times.
He was not the swiftest skater in the NHL, but he more than held his own in that area. He was an artist when it came to tips, deflections and making quick moves close to the goal. He also could blast his slap shot and whistle his wrist shot to the top corner. He was a legitimate NHL goal scorer.
Since his playing career ended, he has ascended to the position of No. 1 color analyst in the game.
However, right after his playing days came to an end, Olczyk was not sure what he would do. His passion for the game and his intelligence gave him a chance to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Penguins were struggling badly in 2003-04. Olczyk tried to instruct them on concepts like team defense and crisp passing. His players simply didn’t get it and Eddie had just a 1.5 year run behind the Pittsburgh bench.
Prior to that, Olczyk was trying to figure out what he would do with his life. As he tried to get his foot in the broadcasting door, he had a few opportunities on the Score.
I partnered with Eddie O in 2001.
In those days, I was doing a lot of football shows on the station but I would also get the chance to host on holidays and as a fill-in guy.
I believe it was a Labor Day weekend show that I hosted with Olczyk.
It couldn’t have gone better. I would have been happy to talk hockey with Eddie for four hours, but he wanted to show his chops. He more than held his own talking NFL, baseball pennant races and hockey. I believe he threw in an anecdote or two about his other passion, horse racing.
But Eddie was not content filling four hours on the radio. He wanted to know all the nuances he could about the business. He wanted to throw it to commercials, read promos and do all the little things that go along with hosting the show.
No doubt he could have found a better teacher, but he was stuck with me and he was all over it from the word go.
He couldn’t have been warmer and more decent. He was also funny and sharp on the air.
If that’s the direction he had wanted to go in, there’s little doubt he would have been successful.
Television executives got it right with Eddie O. When you listen to him do a game on TV, it’s like you’re with your smartest friend at the bar watching the game.
He’s an easy listen and he wears well.
There’s little doubt that he deserved the enshrinement that came his way. Now all he needs is for this infernal lockout to end so he can get back to his day job.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.