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Tommy Olczyk, the face of Penn State hockey

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Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 12:00 am

Tommy Olczyk sat down and patiently waited his turn at a local barber shop.

Just a simple trim “on the flow,” as he put it, was all he was getting.

“I sit down and wait my turn, right on the front podium there. I see the hockey poster,” the recently turned 23-year-old said. “The lady goes, ‘What’s your name?’ I looked down at the poster and laughed. I go ‘Tommy.’

“Luckily I don’t get noticed as much as people might think. I think it’s because we wear helmets all the time.”

That time he got away, but walk downtown State College and the first ever captain of Penn State’s Division I hockey program is everywhere. The blue posters with the schedules down the sides are in many stores, as is Penn State hockey and its merchandise.

But most people don’t know the face and the leader of the flowering program that’s looking back at them when they see whom Penn State takes on next. Most people know his dad.

To the ones who love him most and skate with him just about every day, Tommy is a hardworking, intelligent friend and family member that has become the face of Penn State’s newest varsity spot.

The Family Man

Every time his dad would get traded or signed somewhere new, there was the rest of the Olczyk clan.

Whether it was from Winnipeg to Los Angeles or Pittsburgh back to Chicago, there was Diana Olczyk with four kids, carrying three hockey bags, occasionally a diaper bag and tying a lot of skates.

“What we’ve gone through transitionally, moving, new schools, finding doctors, friends, that’s crazy,” the mother of four said. “Having grown up in the hockey aspect of it, you just watch them all how they grow on the ice and as human beings.”

Diana’s husband and Tommy’s dad is former NHL player Ed Olczyk, who played 16 seasons with seven teams, spending most of his time with the Chicago Blackhawks.

While Tommy said he doesn’t remember many of his dad’s games, he and millions of others around the country have at least heard Ed, as he is the color analyst for most of NBC’s hockey broadcasts. He also is the color analyst for the Chicago Blackhawks. Both jobs still keep Ed on the road a lot.

“He just always has had everything in perspective,” Ed said of Tommy. “His family and friends and his team have always been the most important things for him. If everything else is all right, Tommy is OK. That’s kind of been his personality.”

Just like every time Ed was traded or found a new job, Tommy was right there supporting the family, his parents said.

Both parents remarked how understanding Tommy was.

“I’m definitely really, really close with my family,” Tommy said. “As much as we’ve moved, we’ve always gone together.”

Along with Tommy, who just turned 23, there is the older brother Eddie. At 24 years old, Eddie is currently in the Southern Professional Hockey League after playing at UMass.

The only girl of the bunch is Alexandra, who is 18 years old, followed by the youngest brother, Nick, who is 17 years old and currently plays for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the United States Hockey League.

“Growing up in a hockey-orientated family, it’s a fun deal,” Nick said. “You get to meet a lot of amazing people, but really my brothers are my inspiration. We are very close family and growing up, it was a lot of fun.”

According to the brothers, it wasn’t too competitive growing up. However, the three are always around a hockey rink.

Most recently, Nick has joined both of his brothers, who also played in the USHL. With that, Eddie and Tommy have taken him under their wings, again.

“I think we have a really good support system,” Eddie said. “We have mass texts between all three of us. …We’ve been really there for him, giving him pointers and how to handle adversity. …We kind of have a well-rounded perspective. We kind of feed off each other as a support group.”

Both Tommy and Eddie agree that Nick, though not better than dad, is the best hockey player of the three brothers, taking from what both Tommy and Eddie have learned.

What the entire family agrees on is that Tommy is the brain of the bunch and where he got it.

The Academic

Tommy, Nick and Ed all agreed on where Tommy gets his brains — his mom, Diana.

Currently, Tommy is working on his masters in accounting, and this semester he’s taking three 400-level accounting classes, something that keeps him busy when he’s not at Pegula Ice Arena.

Ask his mother, and she will defer the brains to the grandparents. Either way, in the 2012-13 school year, Olczyk was one of 68 Penn State athletes with a GPA higher than 3.7.

“Even in high school, things came a lot easier to me so I paid attention in class and I wouldn’t have to do as much studying as maybe some of the other kids,” Tommy said. “Coming into college, it’s not that much different. Getting good grades is something that is really important to me.”

Diana said Tommy started valuing school more in middle school. Throughout high school, Tommy carried a 4.0, and at Penn State, he’s heavily involved with a book, just as much as he is with a puck.

“He’s a very [academic] individual,” Eddie said of his brother. “I think that kind of carries over from his hockey play and everything that our dad has taught us about doing things the right way. …Tommy, his days are easy, a lot of people think, being a stereotypical athlete and being the captain. It’s really not. His days are actually really pretty full.”

The Captain

A captain is normally voted on by the team as to who will lead throughout the year.

For Penn State, the first voting was a little bit more than that.

When Tommy’s teammates voted him captain before last season, they weren’t just making him the leader; Tommy would also be the student-athlete face of Penn State hockey.

“It means a lot,” Tommy said. “I was really surprised last year to be given that honor. I had no Division I experience. To be given the nod like that is an extraordinary feeling. It’s a very humbling feeling.”

To his teammates, Tommy is a good fit.

“He’s great players’ guy,” defenseman Luke Juha said. “I think the best thing about him is he’s serious when he needs to be. You need a guy like that as a captain to kind of settle the guys down.”

To his parents, they couldn’t be any more proud. Diana said she was about to start crying when talking about him becoming captain, calling the time “emotional.”

“That’s my son,” she said. “When you look at someone that represents in any sport, it speaks volumes for the person that are, the person that they’ve becomes.”

Olczyk will be the first to admit he’s not the flashiest guy on the ice. What he prides himself in is doing the little things.

He said after a loss in Philadelphia to Vermont, he makes his “money so to speak” on the penalty kill. Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky uses him there more than any other player.

This season, Olczyk has recorded four points, playing in all seven games this year. Those four points match his entire point total of his first year as captain.

“I go out and I try to work hard,” Olczyk said. “I may not be the most physical guy. I do throw an occasional hit here or there when there are the opportunities. I do love to kill penalties and block shots… It’s the little things that really drive my game.”

Being the captain at Penn State isn’t the first time he’s been given the nod. Tommy was voted captain of the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers for his final season.

However, this one is different because Tommy would have to help usher in a new era of Penn State athletics.

The Face

Friday afternoon before Penn State’s game with Army, the first ever in Pegula Ice Arena, Tommy Olczyk stood on the ice with his jersey on.

To the left of him, there was Terry Pegula, the benefactor of the Pegula Ice Arena. To the right of Tommy, Joe Battista, regarded as the godfather of Penn State hockey.

Each of them had a vial of water. One contained snow from Mount Nittany, some from the ice at Greenberg Ice Pavilion, Penn State’s old home, and some from the Lion Shrine.

Together, the three poured the water on to the ice of Pegula’s main rinks, signifying Penn State’s newest home.

At the same time, it was an introduction of a new leader of Penn State hockey — Tommy Olczyk.

“It’s an honor to be the face of Penn State hockey,” he said.

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