Some students are reluctant when the “real world” comes calling.
That's not Nick Olczyk.
The 22-year-old is withdrawing from Colorado College, where he played two seasons of hockey, with the goal of furthering his career - following his famous father, Eddie Olczyk, into broadcasting.
He wasn’t getting the ice time he wanted at Colorado College, appearing in 17 career games in a limited role. This season, the forward cracked the lineup once before February, then held onto a roster spot through first round of the conference playoffs.
The school’s lack of a communications department was also a factor.
Transferring was on the table, but as a “role guy” – never the high-scoring star, but a hard worker and good teammate - the idea of having to prove himself again in another place was daunting.
Leaving the sport behind was never an option.
“Hockey's been as big a part of my life as the air I breathe,” Olczyk said. “I owe everything I have to the game of hockey.
“Although I might not be lacing up the skates and taping the stick…it’s a similar feeling, because you're there to perform and entertain.”
Even with a bright future ahead, retirement is a shock to anyone who’s spent 19 years chasing a dream. He’ll get to work through it with brother Tommy, 28, who coincidentally announced his retirement from hockey about a week before Nick.
The hardest part, Nick said, was telling his dad. Eddie Olczyk enjoyed a 16-year NHL career, but like his brothers, Nick wasn't going to get there.
“I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve let a lot of people down,” he said. “I wanted to make my Dad proud, and it was coming to grips with the fact that I didn’t.
“But no matter what, eventually it’s going to come to an end. This is a different route.”
There wasn’t an “aha!” moment, when he knew he wanted to call games for a living. It’s something he’s always been doing.
As a kid, he said he’d narrate hockey video games so loudly that his brother would have to throw things at him to get him to pipe down.
“I don’t know if I was having fun, or if it was innate practice,” Olczyk said. “I think I have an ability and a gift to explain things, why things are happening. Talking and teaching the greatest game in the world would be pretty amazing.
“Former teammates and coaches have been reaching out and saying, ‘We always knew behind closed doors this is what you’d want to do.’”
A who’s who of Chicago sports journalists reached out to congratulate him on Twitter, and he can draw on those connections this fall and beyond. He was so focused on CC’s eventual run to the Frozen Faceoff, he said, that he didn’t look to the future. Once he did, the transfer deadline had passed.
He plans to secure an internship with NBC or ESPN in Chicago, then enroll next year at the University of Southern California or Syracuse, both of which have renowned communications and journalism departments, and finish his degree.
“Go to the real world, get some experience and take that back to school with me,” he said.
He’s been granted enviable behind-the-scenes access, traveling with his father through the years, getting a feel for the booth and absorbing as much as possible.
“It’s so important to continuously be a student of the game,” he said. “That’s what separates the good and the great – you have to keep learning.”
His time at Colorado College, though brief, helped him toward this next goal. Building a rapport with teammates is good practice for a career that’s all about chemistry. And the connections made will last a lifetime.
“It’s the hardest leave I’ve ever had, probably the closest team I’ve ever been on,” Olczyk said. “I regret nothing.
“Those are people I’ll stay tied with forever.”