April seemed far off when Ed Olczyk returned to NBC headquarters in Connecticut for the first time last December and told Newsday his goal was to be back full-time for the NHL playoffs.
Now here were are, starting Wednesday, and the longtime NBC analyst is ready to go after grueling rounds of chemotherapy to combat Stage 3 colon cancer.
“Really, really great to be back,” he said on a call with reporters Monday. “The support I have from our NBC family, starting off with [executive producer] Sam [Flood] checking in with me every other day for the last seven months, will never be forgotten.
“The support I got from Doc [Emrick] and Pierre [McGuire], all of our family at NBC, helped pass the time and helped get me through some really difficult times and getting back to work.”
Olczyk was diagnosed “on Aug. 4 at 7:07 p.m.,” he said, and was told by Flood that he could work whenever and wherever his health allowed. “I’ll be forever grateful for that,” he said.
He has done some games, including for the Blackhawks’ local channel, and studio work for NBC between treatments. He announced late last month doctors had told him he was cancer free.
“Healthy and ready to go,” he said on Monday.
Still, Olczyk will ease into the playoff grind gradually to avoid wearing down.
“We’re starting Eddie in the studio a little bit so America can see his beautiful face, and he can have some fun in there,” Flood said. “Then we’ll get him back out on the road.
“We were able to get [analyst] Mike Milbury out of the studio a little bit to take Eddie’s spot alongside Doc and Pierre during the season. So we will do that in the playoffs just to keep Eddie from having to chase too many different cities.”
Olczyk, 51, a member of the Rangers’ Stanley Cup-winning 1994 team, said, “I’m just excited to be around the people that I love and the game that I love . . . [The studio] is a much different platform, and I really enjoy it. I’m looking forward to getting my feet wet.
“I think with Sam in charge, and Sam’s the boss, [the plan is] to kind of ease my way back in and not try to be everywhere. But I’ll look forward to sitting back next to Doc and getting into the rink with Pierre and doing what I love to do.”
McGuire, Olczyk’s fellow analyst on NBC’s top team, also was out this season for cancer treatment, missing a month leading up to the Olympics after undergoing prostate cancer surgery.
“I guess the one word I might use is grateful,” McGuire said. “I’m unbelievably grateful to Doc Emrick and his support, to Eddie and his support, to the NBC hockey family in particular. But more importantly than anything else, Sam Flood.
“I walked out of the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital back in late November, right after U.S. Thanksgiving, and I said, ‘Here’s the situation I’m in. What do you think I should do?’ He said, ‘Give me one minute.’ And I wasn’t kidding. He said one minute. So I gave him a minute.
“I called him back, and he said, ‘You’re going to go see this doctor on this date at this hospital. I went to that doctor on that date at that hospital in New York, Dr. Ash Tewari.
“I worked a game on Jan. 3 in New York, between Chicago and the Rangers, and the next morning I was in surgery at 5 a.m. at Mount Sinai Hospital, and I am so grateful for everything that everybody has done for me.”
McGuire normally maintains a manic schedule during the playoffs.
“Pierre might think he’s doing every game, but we’re putting a minutes limit on him like a player,” Flood said. “So in the first-round playoffs, it’s going to be a six-game-a-week limit.”
Said McGuire, “In terms of fatigue, I went to the Olympics and I didn’t feel any fatigue after a 15-hour plane ride, went right to work. I was told I would only be doing a game or two games a day, and that changed after the first day. So sometimes Sam changes what he says.”
Said Flood, “I feel like we’ve already won the Stanley Cup at NBC because to have the big win that both Eddie and Pierre had this year, to battle through both of their cancer situations and have Eddie back on the team and healthy and cancer-free heading into the playoffs, couldn’t be a bigger moment for all of us at NBC.”