The Washington Times - March 7, 2013, 02:28PM

It would’ve been a tremendous night for Steve Oleksy regardless. The journeyman minor league defenseman was making his NHL debut for the Washington Capitals at the age of 27.

An 11-hour drive from Michigan to Verizon Center by Oleksy’s family, father Andy, mother Sue, brother, Daniel, and his girlfriend, Nikki, made it “very special.”

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“[It] was something that so many kids dream of and not a lot of kids get to experience it,” Oleksy said of his first NHL game. “To have my family there, and they’ve been such a big part of my hockey career all the way up, it was kind of a nice little payback for them.”

Oleksy was on an American Hockey League contract with the Hershey Bears until Monday, when the Caps signed him for three years and $1.6 million. He earned a plus-2 rating in 10:05 and picked up his first point on Mike Ribeiro’s goal.

“He played great. He seemed very calm and poised and didn’t seem nervous at all,” defense partner Tom Poti said. “I was sitting next to him in the locker room, too, and he just went out and played hard and did what they asked him to do. I thought he played a great game and he had his first point, which was nice.”

Oleksy’s most noticeable moment came with a big hit on Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton with 5:45 left in the first period.

“Definitely helped get the nerves out,” Oleksy said. “It’s nice to get a hit like that early. You know, you feel pretty strong. The rest of your play feels pretty strong. Strong on the puck and strong around the net, which is huge for me in the game I try to play.”

Coach Adam Oates, who saw Oleksy in Hershey during the NHL lockout, offered up a positive review on his Caps debut.

“Really good,” Oates said. “I thought that he was a little nervous early which is to be expected and he got that big hit on Thornton and I thought that that kind of woke him up and got him to say ‘hey I belong out here,’ and I thought that the rest of the game he played very solid.”

Poti, whose stall is next to Oleksy’s in the Caps’ locker room at Verizon Center, didn’t fill the young defenseman’s head with any advice before the game. Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson pulled Oleksy aside to tell him to play the same way he had been in Hershey.

“They definitely made me feel comfortable and that’s always nice,” Oleksy said. “Obviously it’s a big deal. But [teammates] told me kind of what they went through and how to play it. So definitely helped and it definitely made the first shift a lot easier.”

Oleksy’s first point seemed to come easy. Give the puck to Alex Ovechkin and celebrate Ribeiro’s goal soon after.

But as of Wednesday morning, he didn’t have the puck in his possession.

“I think they’re in the works of working on something with that puck,” Oleksy said. “I think I’ll be getting that pretty soon here.”

That’s a symbolic piece of Oleksy’s unforgettable night. He had hundreds of messages on his phone afterward. But his family didn’t have much to say.

“They drove all through the night so they were pretty tired,” Oleksy said. “They had to wake up and 2, 3 in the morning to leave to head home. They were obviously very excited, not just to watch me but obviously the game, a 4-3 thriller, was pretty exciting for them to watch.”

And obviously exciting for the defenseman, too.

“It was unbelievable, especially the atmosphere in this building,” Oleksy said. “Couldn’t ask for a better first game.”