RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes have reunited another set of brothers — and this time it’s not the Staals.
College players Tommy and Eddie Olczyk, sons of former NHL player and coach Ed Olczyk, are getting their first on-ice taste of the NHL this week during the Hurricanes’ rookie conditioning camp.
And in a remarkable coincidence, the Olczyks’ reunion came less than a week after the Hurricanes brought the Staals back together, trading for center Jordan Staal, the younger brother of team captain Eric.
“Any (time) brothers get a chance to play together, it’s something that drives them,” Tommy Olczyk said. “It’s something that excites them.”
Eddie is 23 and a rising senior at Massachusetts, while 21-year-old Tommy will be a sophomore at Penn State — and is the spitting image of his father. They haven’t played together since they spent half the 2007-08 season on the same junior team in Sioux City.
“Any time we have a chance to, whether it’s in the summertime or at an opportunity like this, it’s great,” Eddie Olczyk said.
Ed Olczyk calls the opportunity a “win-win” for his sons because they “have been around the pro game all their lives, but not in that setting.”
And what they’ve picked up through the years has left an impression on coach Kirk Muller.
“Just watching them working and all that, there’s a maturity level there that you see in the pro hockey world,” Muller said. “They’ve probably been, since they were kids, in the dressing rooms, and so even though this is the first couple of days (of camp) … it’s familiar to them. They know how to train. They know how to be a professional. When you watch them on the ice, they know how to be leaders. And I think you can see that from the experience they have.”
While they’re here, the younger Olczyks are trying to absorb as much as they can from the Hurricanes’ coaches and draftees during four days in camp, then bring that back to their respective college teams.
“A lot of off-ice stuff. We’ve done a lot of conditioning — running, biking, stuff that’s been really beneficial,” Tommy Olczyk said. “It’s going to help you all the way throughout the season, especially once you get into playoffs.”
The elder Olczyk, one of NBC Sports’ most visible hockey analysts, had 342 goals and 452 assists during a 16-season NHL career. While with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1996-98, he was teammates with Ron Francis — a Hall of Fame player who’s now the Hurricanes’ vice president of hockey operations — and that relationship helped make these camp invitations possible.
Eddie Olczyk said the Hurricanes kept an eye on some of his UMass games and discussed bringing him in for a tryout.
“It’s an honor to be invited here,” Tommy Olczyk said. “I feel like I’m fitting in, I feel great. All the guys are great, all the staff … everyone’s really taking care of us, not just my brother and I, but everyone participating in the camp.”
The brothers still have some work to do for their college teams. Eddie Olczyk had one assist in 15 games this season for UMass, while as a freshman Tommy ranked second on the Penn State team with 23 goals and 27 assists in 28 games. The Nittany Lions, who have played at the club level, are moving to Division I varsity status this season, a year before the Big Ten officially sponsors the sport.
After they finish up at school, they hope to catch on with a pro team somewhere and “maybe have the opportunity to come back and try to make a career out of playing hockey,” Eddie Olczyk said.
It’s never easy to build a career as an undrafted player — even with one of the sport’s more recognizable surnames. But it’s possible, and Muller says they have the opportunity, if they can capitalize on it.
“It’s an open window here that they’ve got to take advantage of, and first impressions here will be big,” Muller said. “But it gives them hope. … This is where they’ve really got to believe in themselves. They’ve got to come in here and say, `I know I didn’t get drafted. Lots of players have had great careers that weren’t draft picks and walked on.’ Now they have to work a little harder. They have to do a little bit more, probably, and excite people in different ways now.
“But the door’s still open. It’s not closed,” he added. “So they’ve got to take advantage of it.”