ST. LOUIS – Eddie Olczyk’s morning at Scottrade Center was full of hugs and handshakes, of questions and encouraging words, of smiles and even some tears.
It was a busy morning but a good one for Olczyk, who Wednesday night will do his first hockey broadcast since being diagnosed with colon cancer in August. For the first time in a while, Olczyk felt like himself.
“It feels normal. It feels comfortable,” said Olczyk, who will be alongside Doc Emrick when the Blackhawks face the St. Louis Blues. “I just feel invigorated. Seeing a lot of familiar faces, guys busting chops and a lot of well wishes.”
Olczyk went through his usual game-day routine, including quick chats with Blackhawks players following skate. On Wednesday those talks were that much more special, for both sides.
“Great to see him,” said Ryan Hartman. “When I first saw I was pretty excited to see him back. It’s definitely a presence you know when you’re watching games, that voice you heard growing up. He looks good, looks healthy. He’s in a battle but he looks really good.”
Olczyk will also be in the booth on Thursday night when the Blackhawks host the Edmonton Oilers. Past that, he’ll play it by ear. He’s talked to NBC and Blackhawks president John McDonough, who Olczyk said gave him an “open canvas” in terms of scheduling. If Olczyk feels good on Saturday and the Blackhawks play on Sunday, he’ll try to get back in the booth.
“We think about him every day and we’ve had the pleasure of having him come by a couple of times. Having him be here today for a road game is great to know,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But he has a tough battle ahead of him and he’s doing everything he can to fight it. We support him every single day.”
Olczyk started chemotherapy treatments in September and he has his good and bad days. Those will continue for a while. So will his fight to completely beat this. But for at least the next two nights Olczyk gets to return to a normal routine, and that’s the perfect panacea for a trying time.
“I’m overwhelmed with everybody,” Olczyk said. “But this is the best medicine I’ve had in a long time.”
Lance Bouma took his place at fourth-line left wing as the Blackhawks rolled their forward rushes on Tuesday morning. As the Blackhawks have tinkered with their trios, Bouma, whose final two seasons with the Calgary Flames were filled with uncertainty, has found a consistent role in this lineup.
“Obviously I was brought here for a reason,” Bouma said. “Things didn’t go the way I wanted them to in Calgary. To come here to Chicago and have that role, it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
The Blackhawks knew what they wanted from Bouma and his fellow fourth liners: some physical play, some energy and if there are any scoring opportunities, bonus. It’s a second chance for Bouma, whose contract was terminated by the Flames on June 30.
“I think it’s definitely a motivator knowing that you get in that situation where all of a sudden, ‘OK, I have to almost start over again and I have to prove to a new team that I belong in this league and I can play,’” coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday. “There are always circumstances where teams make decisions like that. We’ve been a part of it. And moving forward as a player, you’ve gotta look at it as a fresh opportunity. It’s an opportunity to get back to playing your game.”
After recording 16 goals and 18 assists in the 2014-15 season, Bouma signed a three-year, $6.6 million deal with the Flames. The next two seasons didn’t go as planned as Bouma dealt with injuries, inconsistent play and healthy scratches. So getting that call from the Blackhawks was a huge lift.
“I was just looking forward to a fresh start and something new,” he said. “I just was ready to come into camp and have a great season and it’s been great so far.”
Tommy Wingels, who has centered the Blackhawks’ fourth line the last several games – and will again vs. St. Louis on Wednesday – said Bouma looks “refreshed” this season.
“Obviously whether it’s a team doesn’t want to bring you back or it’s a trade or buyout, there’s certainly something that deep down gets you going,” Wingels said. “I think it was a good summer for him mentally to come to a new organization, come to a new group of guys and re-establish his game. It’s tough when you’re with the same coaches, same team for so long; maybe what you do gets taken for granted. He looks good and he’s skating really well and I think he moves really well for a big man. He’s strong on the pucks and he’s a good asset for us.
Bouma isn’t here to be a top-six player. He’s not here to fulfill a contract that he no longer has. The Blackhawks needed depth, energy and a physical presence and in brining that, Bouma has earned steady work.
“We knew the player coming in that we wanted him to play that style and he’s done a good job of it, too,” Quenneville said of Bouma. “So it’s something we were looking for in our needs and it fit perfectly."