Olczyk Award giving hockey opportunities

Kathy Kania always promised her son, Luke, she would find a way to pay for his hockey if he was serious about the sport.

Luke lived up to his end. He put in the time and effort to become a skilled goaltender from when he was in fourth grade into his high school years. As Luke improved and started to get noticed for his ability, his opportunities to play for better teams increased. More competitive teams also meant more travel and expenses, and it became harder for Kathy, a single mother raising three children in Chicago, to meet those financial demands.

The largest hockey opportunity for Luke came two years ago when he was invited to play for Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep in Minnesota. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are the among the school's many alumni to go on to the NHL. Kathy wanted so badly to give her son that chance as well, but the tuition and boarding were out of the family’s price range.

Kathy was still searching for a way to pay for the school when her phone rang one day. It was Eddie Olczyk calling, and he was about to change their situation. Olczyk told her Luke was being awarded the Eddie Olczyk Award and would be given the financial assistance needed to pay for Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep.

“It provided an opportunity of a lifetime for my son,” Kathy said in a recent phone interview. “He worked so many years to get to a certain level. At that point to have the opportunity to move on and utilize that talent, he couldn’t have had that opportunity without that grant. To see him able to do that, that’s what every parent hopes for.”

The Chicago Blackhawks and Olczyk created the award specifically for people like Kathy and Luke. They’ve awarded $55,000 in the last two years to 25 applicants, which have included players and organizations, in Illinois who couldn’t afford the financial requirements of playing competitive hockey.

“[The cost] is unfortunate, but that’s where we are,” Olczyk said. “We forget about just ice time how much that costs, just for equipment, just getting on teams cost money. That’s the idea of the award to help ease the burden for families and organizations that need assistance. It’s important that we give back.

“It’s breathtaking to make those phone calls and tell somebody you’re one of the award winners, and we’re going to be able to give you $5,000 so that your son or daughter can play hockey the next year or whatever it is.”

Kathy will certainly never forget that day. It allowed her to keep her promise to Luke.

“Every year was a huge challenge for us,” she said. “I told Luke from the beginning if he had the ability and the desire to play at an elite level, I would try to find a way to do that. There were so many times I wasn’t sure I would be able to do that.”

Luke is still complying with his promise, too. He’s 10-3-1 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .921 save percentage for Shattuck-St. Mary’s as a senior this season. He was selected by the Chicago Steel in the USHL draft in May and is also being recruited by a number of Division I college programs.

Olczyk hopes to give more Illinois players like Luke the same sort of opportunity in the future.

“This is important to me because I’m from here,” Olczyk said. “It’s an expensive game. It’s one of the ways I can give back to the game and my hometown which has given me so much.”

Blackhawks are now accepting applications for the 2013-14 awards. More information can be found at http://blackhawks.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=74491.