- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2013

Steve Oleksy took his equipment off and sat back down in the Washington Capitals’ locker room after practice. He had all the time in the world to talk about his six weeks in the NHL and years in the minors trying to get there.

“Where do you want to start?” he said. “I’ve been everywhere.”

Everywhere and back, from baseball to hockey and Idaho to Hershey, Pa., to signing his first NHL deal March 4 at the age of 27. Along the way, he had countless opportunities to give up hockey.

Twenty-eight regular-season games with the Caps complete, Oleksy will play his first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs Thursday against the New York Rangers. It’s fair to say no one saw this coming.

“It’s quite a story,” said ex-NHL forward Mike Stapleton, who coached Oleksy in the North American Hockey League. “You can tell kids that think that the light of the day is not going to show for them, and you can tell them about Stevie’s story.”

**FILE** Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy played three seasons at Lake Superior State (Lake Superior State University)
**FILE** Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy played three seasons at Lake Superior State ... more >

‘It takes bounces’

Oleksy’s story is far from a glamorous one. It includes playing for eight minor league teams in four different leagues before finally getting his chance because Caps coach Adam Oates needed a right-handed defenseman.

“I’m very happy and very lucky that I picked up that right-handed stick when I was younger,” Oleksy said. “And it takes bounces to go your way, and that’s one of them.”

Oleksy went from career minor leaguer to at one point playing 28 minutes for a team that just capped an improbable run to the playoffs.

“I don’t know if I still quite realize it,” his father, Andy Oleksy, said. “Every day it gets a little more real.”

Andy Oleksy figured Steve would be better off playing baseball, not hockey. The Chesterfield, Mich., native played two sports his whole life and played a season of baseball at Macomb Community College before earning a scholarship to do so at Oakland University near Detroit.

Oleksy attended orientation before the draw of playing for Stapleton and Scott Gardiner for the Traverse City North Stars of the NAHL changed his plans.

“I made the decision just for the love of the game,” Oleksy said. “I just had a great feeling and decided I was going to take a year and try to do something with the sport of hockey.”

After an impressive season in Traverse City, Oleksy got a hockey scholarship to Lake Superior State University, but only after the first place he committed to, Wayne State in Detroit, failed to mail his papers on time. Once his son got that break, Andy Oleksy knew Steve had made the right decision to continue his life on the ice.

“I give him full credit for what he did,” said Andy, who credited wife Sue and her mother with telling him to let his son dictate his direction. “I wasn’t the first one to encourage him, but once he did it, he had our support a thousand percent.”

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