By Michael Caples –
Steven Oleksy said he doesn’t feel any different, but his life sure has taken a big turn over the last 12 months.
The Chesterfield native, who started the 2011-12 season with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, signed with the Washington Capitals on March 4. Oleksy, a defenseman, skated in 28 games with the Capitals after signing, recording one goal, eight assists, 33 penalty minutes and a +9 rating.
A consistent spot on the roster of a high-profile team like Washington meant new-found fan fare for the Michigan native. The 27-year-old, who skated with Lake Superior State before embarking on a professional career that has included stops in the IHL, ECHL, AHL and now NHL, said he is proud to be a role model for Michigan’s youth hockey players.
“It’s pretty wild,” Oleksy said after an on-ice training session in Troy last week. “To be honest, I don’t feel any different than I did before, but it’s a pretty cool feeling to come home and see kids around the area wearing my number and 61 and knowing that’s for me. That’s been unbelievable. But to be a positive role model, that’s a great feeling for me. I’ve tried to do that my whole life, and to have kids look up to you is a great feeling.”
Oleksy, back in Michigan for the duration of the off-season, said his first taste of NHL hockey was made that much more special by the organization that signed him. The Capitals have plenty of other Michigan connections in their system, including Livonia native Riley Barber and Plymouth Whalers products Connor Carrick and Tom Wilson.
“It was an amazing experience,” Oleksy said. “Not only to step into a situation like the NHL, but to step into an organization like Washington, where you’re surrounded by big-name guys and a great team all around. It was a great experience, and then obviously to come onto the club, and make the push and go into the playoffs. Obviously we fell a little short there in the first round, but it was a great experience to compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs.”
The Capitals’ defenseman said it’s nice to be home, but he has plenty to work on before heading back to D.C.
“It’s going real well, real well,” he said when asked to describe his summer. “Obviously it’s nice to spend a couple months at home, but focused on what I have to do to get ready for next year, and getting ready to go here.”
Oleksy had plenty to do outside of his own training this summer, as well. He is the founder and head of the Eastside Elite Hockey league, which serves as competitive summer hockey for the state’s top players.
“It’s going real well actually,” Oleksy said. “That’s one of the things, you say it was a whirlwind season and to step back, and no longer than a week after you get back home to start that up, with the guys’ and the girls’ league….It will be nice to get that out of the way and enjoy a couple weeks at home before heading back out to camp.”
Oleksy noted that the girls’ championship contest featured a standing room-only crowd. He also said that he’s happy to share in the success of his peers in the Eastside Elite league.
“It’s pretty exciting, and to be honest, to see all the talent in this area, the metro Detroit area, is unbelievable,” Oleksy said. “To watch the guys grow, they start in midget major with Honeybaked, Caesars, programs like that, and then to watch them move onto Junior A and college and enter the pro ranks is a great experience, to go along with the boys and watch them grow and go along for the ride with them.”
But he’s also looking forward to getting back to Washington.
“[The last few months were] pretty crazy, but to be honest, with all that comes a lot of distractions at home. That’s why I’m kind of looking forward to getting back to Washington and getting ready for the season.”