Assessing the odds long has been a part of Eddie Olczyk’s life but, for the first time, the former NHL player and coach and ace thoroughbred racing handicapper wasn’t sure of his when he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in August, 2017.
But less than four months after his final chemotherapy treatment, the 51-year-old Olczyk is happily enjoying the busiest week of his year.
As NBC Sports’ lead hockey analyst, Olczyk will be in the booth on Thursday night in Las Vegas as the Washington Capitals potentially can win the Stanley Cup. And on Saturday, Olczyk will be at Belmont Park to handicap that day’s racing for NBC, including the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, when Justify can become the second Triple Crown winner in four years.
“I feel really good,” Olczyk said by telephone on Monday afternoon before the Capitals’ 6-2 win in Game 4 at Washington. “The further away I get from Feb. 21 the better. That was the last time I got unhooked from treatments. I’m getting back to some sort of normalcy. Physically and mentally, I’m just in a tremendous place, just getting back to working.
“I feel very lucky,” Olczyk added. “When I got sick, it was a stop-you-in-your-tracks moment. Stage 3 colon cancer. Six months of chemo. Everything stops. It tests your will. The unknown is what is the scary part.”
Knowing he had to set short-range goals, Olcyzk said he went to Office Max and bought himself a calendar and, starting on Sept. 11, began using a black marker to X out every other Monday as he completed that day’s chemotherapy treatment.
Olczyk, who grew up just outside of Chicago, got hooked on horse racing at Arlington Park and also broadcasts Blackhawks’ games, started doing local telecasts, then some national ones, then helped with NBC’s Breeders’ Cup coverage.
Now, he’s able to handle a grueling back-and-forth schedule between the Cup Final and the final leg of the Triple Crown series. On Tuesday, he traveled to Las Vegas to cover Thursday’s Game 5. He’s booked on a red-eye back east and will be on NBC Sports Network’s Belmont preview show on Friday and then NBC will have a full day of coverage on Saturday.
So far, Olczyk has shown his handicapping acumen during NBC’s Triple Crown telecasts.
He nailed the Kentucky Derby trifecta for the second time in four years and then, at the Preakness, he went 6-for-6 in either predicting the winner or hitting the exacta.
As for the Belmont, Olczyk likes Justify’s chances to complete the Triple Crown but also believes Hofburg is “sitting on a big race” to use in exotic betting.
“The Preakness, everybody picked Justify to win,” Olczyk said. “If we have 11 or 12 talents picking [for NBC], I really believe people have a feeling he is vulnerable going into the Belmont. I don’t. But I don’t think he’s going to be as big a favorite as people are thinking.”