By Stefan Kubus –
DETROIT – A random outburst during the first intermission from a small group of fans in the Joe Louis Arena upper bowl stood out among a rather quiet intermission crowd.
The reason for it was that Capitals’ defenseman Steve Oleksy was credited with an assist on Brooks Laich’s first-period goal Friday night in a 4-3 shootout win. And said group consisted of Oleksy’s family and friends on-hand to witness the 27-year-old Chesterfield native’s first NHL game in Detroit.
The 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman said he had “quite a few” friends and family members at the game supporting him.
“A lot of family, friends, a lot of people in the area have shown me a lot of support over the last couple of years, so it was great to be here and play in front of them,” Oleksy said. “I appreciate everybody that did come out.”
“It’s pretty incredible,” Oleksy said of playing for the first time in Detroit. “Obviously, you watch a lot of games here growing up and stuff like that, so to be playing in one, it was a great feeling; it was very exciting.”
Though he was sure to put the team first, Oleksy said it was also nice to find the scoresheet – his fifth point of the season – in front of friends and family in his home state, especially in a hard-fought triumph.
“It’s a big win,” Oleksy said. “It was nice to contribute there, but especially with the character we came back with and won in a building like Detroit… To come back from two goals down going into the third period, that’s a huge character win for us.”
While it was the blue-liner’s first time playing at Joe Louis Arena, he certainly made his rounds throughout Michigan on the road to Washington.
From 2002-2005, Oleksy suited up for the Metro Jets in the CSHL before heading off to play for Traverse City in the NAHL. His lone season with the North Stars earned him a spot with Lake Superior State in the now-defunct CCHA.
The road to the NHL wasn’t clear-cut from there.
Oleksy bounced around the ECHL, IHL – including a stint with Port Huron in 2009-10 – and AHL before finally landing a deal with the Washington Capitals on March 4, 2013.
Though he suited up for 28 regular season games and seven playoff contests during last year’s shortened campaign, Olesky said having an entire summer to prepare for a full season was certainly a little different.
“You really get a feeling for what it takes to be at this level and to stay at this level,” Oleksy said of the learning curve last season. “Heading into summer, I knew how to approach it a little more and how hard I had to work. It was a great summer for me, and obviously happy to get a full season.”
In addition to his training, Oleksy also balances his responsibility as head of the Eastside Elite League – a competitive summer hockey league for the state’s top players – during the summer. However, with the required dedication toward preparing for the NHL’s 82-game grind, Oleksy said he was able to get some help with the summer league.
“I actually had an intern work for me last year and got a couple this summer, so it’s nice to split that up a little bit and dish out some chores,” Oleksy said. “The people who have helped me have been great contributing and doing a lot of work for me.”