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Hockey is a tie that binds for Eddie Olczyk and his family

Hockey touches the lives of everyone who is a part of the Olczyk family. Courtesy Eddie Olczyk

CHICAGO -- Diana Olczyk can still remember the color of the pamphlet her oldest son, Eddie Olczyk, handed her more than 40 years ago, the one that started it all.

The yellow pamphlet was an invitation to learn how to skate at Ballard Sports Complex in Niles, Illinois. The Olczyks had been more of a football and baseball family to that point, but 6-year-old Eddie wanted to give skating a try.

Eddie skated, and a hockey family was born. Eddie went on to become one of the United States' top players. He played 16 seasons in the NHL, coached in the NHL and is now one of the game's most recognizable television commentators.

Eddie was just the start, though.

His younger brother, Ricky Olczyk, also fell in love with the game. Ricky didn't possess the talent Eddie did, though, and his playing days ended in college. That didn't stop him from continuing to pursue a hockey career, and Ricky made his own way to the NHL through the front office. He is currently assistant general manager for the Carolina Hurricanes. A third brother, Randy, 44, works at Chicagoland Commercial, an area real estate company.

The hockey tradition has also carried on with Eddie's three sons, who are all coaching and playing hockey.

"Once you're in, you're in," said Eddie, 49, who is an analyst for the Chicago Blackhawks and nationally for NBC. "I knew what I wanted to do when I was 12 years old. I had one goal. I was lucky enough that I had the support of my folks and I had a gift. I believe it was a God-given gift to play hockey. It's been pretty amazing that the boys and my brother are still in the game."

The success the Olczyk family has had in the sport can largely be credited to the sacrifices Diana and her husband, Ed, made early in Eddie's career. Once Eddie showed promise in hockey, he began to have more opportunities to play against better competition, which meant having to send him around the United States and into Canada. For a working-class family, that wasn't always easy.

"We didn't know how expensive traveling was," Diana said. "We were simple people. My husband worked a lot of hours. I worked with the kids and stuff. We went to the bank and borrowed $675 and signed a promissory note so he could go on a hockey trip. That kind of reminds you, 'Work hard and you do what you have to do and it's for your children.' To us, family is everything."

The family shared Eddie's hockey journey, turning out-of-state hockey tournaments into vacations. Everyone's schedule had to be in sync to get to practices on time. That became more complicated when the family moved from Niles, a northwest Chicago suburb, to Palos Heights, a southwest suburb, and Eddie still had practices in the northwest suburbs.

"I remember times when my mom would drive me in the car with my gear," Eddie said. "We'd park at the tollway oasis, walk together, meet halfway. My mom would take my dad's car to go home to go south. We'd go north for hockey. That's what we did."

Ricky looked up to his older brother throughout Eddie's hockey ascension and began dedicating himself to the sport as well. Unlike Eddie, who was a forward, Ricky's path was as a defenseman. He was named a captain at Brown University during his senior season.

Ricky had a few small professional hockey opportunities out of college, but decided against them. He earned a law degree at Cornell, worked for the NHL Players' Association for two years, and spent time in Phoenix and Chicago at consulting and law firms. He was hired by the Edmonton Oilers in 2007 as director of hockey administration and legal affairs, and eventually was promoted to assistant general manager. He joined the Hurricanes as assistant general manager in June 2014.

"Hockey has always been a part of my fabric in every academic endeavor I've done," said Ricky, 45, who was recently named to the management staff for Team Europe's entry in the World Cup of Hockey. "I've always tied it somehow. I always wanted to have my job combine my two loves -- hockey and law -- eventually. Happy to say I've done that today."

Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis has known the Olczyk family for years. He was teammates with Eddie and now works with Ricky, and Francis wasn't surprised the brothers each reached the NHL.

"I guess I'm not, knowing the family and their background," Francis said. "The mom and dad are extremely honest, hardworking, genuine people. The boys have a lot of those traits. They're just good people and hardworking. If they put something to mind, there's a good chance they'll succeed at it."

With Eddie and Ricky being four years apart and Eddie leaving home when he was 16 to play hockey, they spent only a part of their childhoods together. Their relationship has changed as adults.

"I think we've gotten closer," Ricky said. "Again, his love for hockey and his passion, and my love and passion for hockey is a common bond. We're able to talk about anything and everything. I'm very fortunate to have that relationship with him. We both do it with [other brother] Randy as well."

Their parents have enjoyed watching the relationship evolve and witnessing how each son arrived at his goal of the NHL in his own way.

"They love what they're doing," Ed said of his sons. "I kid them every so often, 'You guys never had a real job.' Saying that tongue-in-cheek as I'm eating my heart out. I played football, and I was eliminated as the pyramid got higher and narrower. It was a thrill for me to see both sons be so good and successful. I'm proud as heck. I'm just proud as heck."

Eddie's sons are continuing the hockey tradition in the Olczyk family. His oldest son, also named Eddie, is a 26-year-old assistant coach at Niagara University. Tommy, 25, is a senior forward for nationally ranked Penn State. Eddie's youngest son, Nick, 19, plays for the South Shore Kings of the U.S. Premier Hockey League and will play at Colorado College beginning next season. Daughter Zandra, 20, is attending University of Alabama.

"Our lives are hockey," Nick said. "We have a plaque, actually, in our house right when you walk in the foyer that says, 'We interrupt this family for hockey.' I think that's a perfect slogan if you can quote our family."

And it all began with that little yellow pamphlet.

"It's neat," Ricky said. "We're very, very blessed. I don't know why we're so deserving of these fortunes. We're truly grateful and appreciative of it. We don't take it for granted."