Photo: Kyle Mace/Sweetest Hockey on Earth

Photo: Kyle Mace/Sweetest Hockey on Earth

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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  • Jack Conness

    Great guy. I wish things worked out differently with him. I always enjoyed his intensity and his game he brought to the Caps. I hope him the best and maybe we will see him soon.

  • Emily Wright

    Seems like his game is better in the NHL, even though the Caps have struggled- what with all the bizarro jiggery-pokery in the lines. The waivers process must have been so disheartening for him. That, among many other things, makes me hopeful for some changes in the way this team is managed and coached.

    Related: pitchforks and torches pop up on my “recommended for you” list on Amazon. It knows I’m a Caps fan.

  • Sabrina

    Love this guy! Want only the best for Binky….and I hope that means he returns to NHL lineup soon, as a Cap…

  • Hockey mom

    Now I am extra sad that I missed the game!!!

    I hope he can over come this. As much as it is a game of physical strength, the guys have to be mentally and emotionally strong, too. I really feel for them when they go through hard times.

    Best wishes to you Steve!

  • frowning

    I hate to be that guy but he looked pretty terrible last night – as did Grubauer. Not sure if its the difference in the pace and style of AHL/NHL hockey but Grubauer let in at least 2 softies and Oleksy just looked defeated.

  • Shaun Phillips

    Agree. We watched a few Hershey games while the NHL was locked out last year. Never really noticed him other than his fights. Run-of-the-mill AHL dman. As soon as he got up to the NHL, he showed his offensive skill as well as being a solid 3rd pair dman.

  • Hockey mom

    I think for the guys who haven’t gone back and forth between the Caps and Hershey it is probably pretty exciting to be wearing a Caps jersey, but for the dudes that “came up” and got “sent back down” it has got to be defeating. Especially if you don’t even get to wear “your” Caps number for the game.

    Oh now I am extra-extra sad as Steve O is my fave player….