Photo: Kyle Mace/Sweetest Hockey on Earth
On January 20, Steve Oleksy was waived by the Washington Capitals. He had been called up less than a year before, after years toiling away in the AHL and ECHL. In his first shot in the NHL, the minor league veteran became punching fan favorite and a serviceable third pairing defenseman. The Caps soon signed him to a three-year, one-way deal. He played 61 games, scoring three goals.
This year, though, the Caps have gone through 13 defensemen. Once John Erskine came back from injury, the Caps had no desire to keep Oleksy’s inflexible contract. Caps head coach Adam Oates said the team hoped, for Oleksy’s sake, that he would be picked up by another NHL squad. He wasn’t. On Sunday, Oleksy returned to the Verizon Center for the first time since being sent down. His Hershey Bears played the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL Showcase, an ostensibly neutral site game created to introduce the American Hockey League to big-league cities.
“The fans really showed me a lot of support,” Oleksy told me after the game. “To come back here and play in front of them was a great feeling. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me. The guys were great to me during my time here.”
Oleksy’s recent time with Hershey, however, has been disastrous. While there’s still the chance we could get called up to Washington again, Oleksy has sat out the last week as a healthy scratch. Perhaps defeated, his defensive play has struggled now that he’s back in the minors. With the Bears visiting Verizon Center, coach Mike Haviland decided to put him back in the lineup along with other former Caps.
“Every guy’s dream is to play in the National Hockey League,” the coach said. “We’ve had a lot of guys up and down this year with Washington.”
“When you get here, you don’t want to leave,” Haviland added of Washington’s prospects. “We tried to get as many in the lineup as we could tonight.”
On Sunday, Oleksy and his teammates were walloped 5-2, with Phillip Grubauer allowing 10 goals in the last 48 hours. Oleksy registered a shot on goal and got into a scuffle near the benches. He’s unsure when he’ll be back to Verizon Center.
“It was pretty tough,” Oleksy said of returning. “Over the last year, this place felt like home.”
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