Like Fathers, Like Sons: Nate Jensen and Tommy Olczyk follow in their fathers footsteps

Years After Their Dads Were Olympic Teammates, Tommy Olczyk And Nate Jensen Are Skating At Penn State
By: 
Joe Sager

Twenty-six years after their fathers were roommates with the 1986 U.S. National Team, Nate Jensen (right) and Tommy Olczyk (left) are teammates and roommates at Penn State University.Twenty-six years after their fathers were roommates with the 1986 U.S. National Team, Nate Jensen (right) and Tommy Olczyk (left) are teammates and roommates at Penn State University.

The hockey world is a very big one. It’s also pretty small. Just ask Nate Jensen and Tommy Olczyk.

These two players wound up as part of the inaugural NCAA Division I ice hockey team at Penn State University this year. What really makes their situation unique is that they are roommates – much like their fathers, Ed and Dave H., were for Team USA at the 1986 IIHF World Championship in Moscow.

“You don’t realize how small the hockey world is until something like that actually happens,” said Tommy Olczyk, who was named first captain of the Nittany Lions. “Our dads roomed together almost 30 years ago. It’s pretty crazy.”

The two players did not know each other well before they arrived at Penn State last year. They played against each other in the USHL, but that’s about it.

“I had talked to him a couple times, but I didn’t know him coming in here. We have some mutual friends, and I heard he was a great guy,” Nate Jensen said.

“When we both came in ... we connected right away. Now, we’re rooming together and, hopefully, we will for the rest of our years here.

“It’s neat how hockey kind of binds people together. You meet so many great people from the game who carry on throughout your life. We’ll probably end up being friends for the rest of our lives.”

While the two players weren’t aware of their fathers’ connection, it didn’t take long for the stories to come pouring out of Ed and Dave, who were also teammates on the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team.

“That’s the hockey world. It is very small. Paths cross in a lot of different eras and places. The stars aligned, so to speak, when it comes to father-father and son-son playing together,” said the elder Olczyk.

Ed Olczyk (Left) and  Dave Jensen (Right) at the 1986 IIHF World Championship in MoscowEd Olczyk (Left) and Dave Jensen (Right) at the 1986 IIHF World Championship in Moscow

“It’s fun to think about it and just to know our paths crossed way back in the ’80s. Now, here we are in 2012, and the boys are playing together.”

The fathers can see themselves on the ice when they watch their sons play. Nate is a defenseman, just like his father, who played for the Minnesota North Stars as well as in Europe. Tommy is a winger just like his father, who was a winger for various teams throughout his 16-year NHL career. He’s now the lead analyst for Chicago Blackhawks telecasts as well as NHL games on NBC. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Oct. 15.

“Ed was high energy and played with a lot of emotion. His son is the same way. He’s a really fun player to watch,” Dave Jensen said. “Nate is a defenseman and steady. He doesn’t get real high or low. Our kids’ personalities are very similar to how Ed and I played.”

The fathers had a unique chance to watch their sons skate together last season. Since the Nittany Lions’ D-I program didn’t take the ice until this fall (as an independent), Tommy and Nate got to play with a majority of their teammates as part of Penn State’s club team in 2011-12 without it counting toward their NCAA Div. I eligibility. Head coach Guy Gadowsky was able to run the club team, too.

“It was great. We all have some great chemistry already,” Tommy said. “All the new guys we brought in are great, and we couldn’t ask for a better group. It was really nice to get to know the coaches.

“It’s fun to think about it and just to know our paths crossed way back in the ’80s. Now, here we are in 2012, and the boys are playing together.”

We’re just going to try to go out and work hard. I’ll kill penalties, block shots and score a goal here or there. I’ll do whatever I can to help the team.”

Nate already had a year of college hockey under his belt. The Minnesota native attended Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., his true freshman year and had 16 points in 36 games for the Lakers. After the school year, Nate decided to go a different direction and chose to continue his collegiate career at Penn State.

“I heard the school was awesome for academics. That was a start. I heard they were going to build a new rink and they’d be in the Big Ten,” said Nate Jensen, who was tabbed as an assistant captain.

“I heard Guy Gadowsky was going to be the head coach and heard great things about him. It was nice to get on campus and get know the coaches and players a bit. I got my feet wet last year. This year, I’m ready to go.”

Tommy, a Chicago native, was familiar with Penn State from the three years he lived in Pittsburgh while his dad was the Penguins’ head coach (2003-05). Once he heard the Nittany Lions’ D-I program was starting, he couldn’t pass it up, either.

“It’s pretty crazy," he said. "There had been talk about Penn State having a D-I program. Everything is starting to come together and it’s an honor to be a part of it. That was a huge draw to me – to set the foundation for something that is going to be really, really awesome,” he said.

“A school like Penn State getting D-I hockey for both the men and women is huge. It’ll be such a draw for all the male and female players in Pittsburgh, Philly and New Jersey. It’s going to draw some of the best players. To just be a part of this is incredible. I know I made the right choice coming to Penn State.”

 

 

 

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.

 

Photos courtesy of Penn State University; USA Hockey archives
Issue: 
2012-11

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