Before the Blackhawks hosted the Minnesota Wild on Sunday, Eddie Olczyk was honored with “One More Shift.”
He skated around the ice and received a standing ovation from the crowd while a short tribute video played on the jumbotron.
It’s was 18 years in the making, Olczyk said.
“I never had a chance to really say thank you or goodbye when I retired in 2000 for whatever reason,” Olcyzk said before the ceremony. “[It’ll] be great closure.”
The shift was even more special for Olczyk given the fact it took place on the Hawks’ annual “Hockey Fights Cancer” night.
One year ago at this time, Olczyk was receiving chemotherapy treatment for his Stage 3 colon cancer. But at this year’s event, he can proudly proclaim he’s cancer-free.
It’s been a long road for Olczyk. But if his battle of cancer taught him anything, it was how to be courageous.
“I do believe and we do believe as a family that our purpose in life now is to share my story, to help inspire one person that’s either in the battle, going through the battle or helping support somebody,” Olczyk said. “Maybe down the road, somebody will say my biggest impact on our community was off the ice and away from the rink, and you know what, that’s OK.
“There’s nothing like knowing people feel good and that is all a part of going through what I did, getting incredible support and couldn’t have done it by myself. Now it’s my job and my family’s job to inspire people. Even if it’s just for a day or a month. It’s always with you, whether you’re in the battle or you’re outside the chemo or you’re cancer free. That cancer will always be with you. You got to take it head on.”
And that’s just what he did before his “One More Shift” ceremony.
Olczyk hosted the Hawks’ purple carpet event along with former forward Adam Burish. He shared his story and encouraged those battling cancer to be brave.
“There were times when I was going through my chemo treatments where I wondered, ‘How am I going to get through six months let along 24 hours?'” Olczyk told the crowd. “And my wife of 30 years looked at me when I was down and said, ‘Fight for me. Fight for our kids. And fight for all the people that love you.'”
Olczyk and Burish welcomed dozens of Hawks fans, who are battling cancer or in remission. The fans walked through the United Center’s East Atrium, flashing smiles and sharing high-fives with spectators who were lined up against the ropes.
As the event came to an end, Olczyk recognized two familiar faces in the crowd: The parents of Lauren Graver, the 10-year-old who lost her battle to cancer less than one month after she joined Olczyk for a ceremonial puck drop at last season’s “Hockey Fights Cancer” night.
Graver’s father was wearing the purple sweater Olczyk gave Lauren after they dropped the puck together. After the event, Olczyk jumped off the stage to hug and talk with both of them.
“[I] just let them know that we continue to support them,” Olczyk said. “And let them know that Lauren Graver made a huge impact on us as people, us as an organization and our community for her fight, when you think about her battle of muscle cancer.”
Before Olczyk walked away to sign other fans’ gear and take selfies, Graver’s mother handed him a purple sign that read: “I fight for Lauren.”
He smiled and hugged her again.
“To hear people’s stories to meet them, to let them know that we support them is what it’s all about,” Olczyk said.