When I think of hockey players training in the offseason, I imagine iron, ice, and sweat. I don’t imagine safety goggles and balls bouncing off walls.
A few weeks ago, Steve Oleksy revealed his newfangled training technique: playing racquetball with Braden Holtby.
Of the 13 (!) defenders the Capitals used this season, Steve Oleksy outscored the opposition better than any of them, stayed about even in relative puck possession, and made everybody smile. So obviously he got put on waivers and sent down to Hershey.
|14.9||Average time on ice per game|
|46.6%||Shot attempt percentage during 5v5|
|58.8%||Goal percentage during 5v5|
|9.9%||On-ice shooting percentage during 5v5|
|94.0%||On-ice saving percentage during 5v5|
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.”
We all had a sad when Steve Oleksy was sent down to Hershey a few weeks ago, but maybe we underestimated the entertainment value of his and Michael Latta‘s friendship. They’re both adept at the Twitter and they both love to joke around.
Yesterday was Oleksy’s 28th birthday, so naturally Latta did something special for his broseph.
A few minutes past noon, word surfaced that defenseman Steve Oleksy cleared waivers. Binky, who scored 19 points in 61 games with the Washington Capitals over the last two seasons, reported to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. But not before tweeting out a special thank you message to fans.
Oleksy as a kid. (Photo credit: Steve Oleksy)
When you examine the Washington Capitals roster and pore over every player on defense, Steve Oleksy feels like a name that belongs. After signing with the organization as an unrestricted free agent in 2012, Oleksy worked his butt off in Hershey and earned a call-up to the Caps in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
During that year, it appeared that Oleksy, receiving 17:16 of ice time per game, solidified himself as a solid third pairing NHL defender. When Oleksy was playing, he tilted the ice in the Caps direction. Plus, he was a physical defender that would stick up for teammates and even chip in with some clutch offense. Did we mention he was physical?
Even after getting sporadic playing time this season under Adam Oates, Oleksy still has better possession stats than John Erskine and Connor Carrick. Yet, we’re here.
Monday morning, Renaud Lavoie of Journal de Montreal broke the news that Oleksy was placed on waivers. At 12pm tomorrow, Oleksy could be claimed by another NHL team and gone from the Caps organization forever. That would be a total bummer.
In his short time in DC, Oleksy has managed to become a fan favorite. He showed heart on the ice with humility and humor off of it.
Here are some of my favorite moments.
Photo credit: Steve Oleksy
In 2004, after graduating from from L’Anse Creuse North High School in Macomb, Michigan, Washington Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy seemed destined for a career in baseball.
The Chesterfield, Michigan-native played two sports all his life: hockey and baseball. During his freshman year at Macomb Community College, Oleksy played on the Monarch’s baseball team. Later, he earned a scholarship to Oakland University near Detroit. Oleksy even attended an orientation there, before that little voice inside his head nagged him that hockey was his true calling.
On December 8, Steve Oleksy scored his first goal in 273 days, after seven games as a healthy scratch. Now, 25 days later, he’s got another, a game-tying tally against the Carolina Hurricanes. It was a typical Oleksy goal: seemingly accidental.
“It’s a good feeling when you don’t get many,” Oleksy told me after the game. “That’s the way it goes. Especially at this level I’m not really known for the goal scoring touch from the blueline. You go through spells where you don’t pop any in. It’s important that you’re getting looks. I’ve had some good looks over the last couple games. It’s nice to finally have some go in.”
Photo credit: Bruce Bennett
Washington Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy has been scratched for the last seven games. From the press box he watched dudes like Tyson Strachan and rookie Patrick Wey get jerseys instead of him. On Sunday, Oates gave Oleksy another chance as the Caps readied to play their second game in as many days.
Oleksy responded in a humangous big way.
Al Koken shows off Fehr’s sticks during the Wednesday’s CSN broadcast.
Eric Fehr has bounced around the lineup a lot this season, all the way from the first line to the press box. Another thing undergoing constant shuffling: his stick.
“I’m still looking around, still looking for the one that’s gonna work for me,” he told me Wednesday. “I’ve been working on a few things.”
What’s curious, though, is the specific stick Fehr settled on: when he scored his first goal since October 10 on Wednesday, the 28-year-old was using Steve Oleksy‘s stick. A power forward and a stay-at-home defenseman don’t have much in common, of course, but Fehr liked Oleksy’ stick after a cursory test of his teammates’ weapons.
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