Oleksy on Oates: 'He knows the game'
This time last year, when people stopped to talk with Steve Oleksy in his hometown of Chesterfield, Mich., the hockey conversations would last about five minutes.
“Now, they last 45 minutes,” Oleksy said with a laugh.
The reason, of course, is because at the age of 27, Oleksy is no longer a lifelong minor leaguer. He not only broke into the NHL last season, he earned his first NHL contract and a regular turn with the Capitals’ six-man defensive rotation.
Not bad for a guy who three years ago nearly gave up on hockey to invest in the pizza business.
Last week, Oleksy enjoyed his newfound popularity when he took on a challenge to face tennis pro Andy Roddick. As you’ll see in this short clip, Oleksy whiffed on his first return attempt, but got his racquet together on the second.
“It was pretty unbelievable,” Oleksy said. “I hadn’t picked up a racquet in three years and to look across at Roddick serving at you, it was pretty surreal, that’s for sure.
“To be honest, I think if I prepared a little better I might have been all right. I found my groove there and they cut me off. It was definitely an exciting experience. They’re unbelievably talented athletes.”
A few days later, Oleksy showed up at the Capitals’ FanFest on the final day of development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and fans formed a line that snaked around the entire second level to receive his autograph.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling for me,” he said, “especially in a place like Washington, where the fans are so passions and care so much about hockey. To be able to interact more than you get do during the season is a great experience for me.”
Oleksy was asked what he would have said a year ago if someone told him fans would be lined up by the hundreds for his autograph.
“I probably would have laughed,” he said. “It’s still a little surreal for me, but it’s a great experience. Obviously, last year was a great opportunity for me and I really enjoyed being part of everything that happened. I’m really looking forward to trying to prove myself this year and be a part of it again.”
With those fan interactions comes a certain obligation, Oleksy said.
“There’s definitely pressure to win and when you have a fan base like that you wan to give it your all and perform up to your expectations and exceed those expectations,” he said. “There’s’ definitely added pressure there, but that’s why we play the game.”
Following the Caps’ elimination from the playoffs, in which Oleksy averaged 15:09 of ice time, he took three weeks to rest his body and has slowly ramped up his summer workout, skating two or three times a week and working out in the gym five or six days.
He said he’d like to improve on his skating and be in top condition when training camp opens under Adam Oates in September.
“Adam knows the game better than anyone I’ve come across,” he said. “If you don’t continue to improve you’re going to get passed up pretty quickly. Everybody’s looking to make that jump.”
Oleksy recorded one goal, eight assists and logged 33 penalty minutes in his 28 games for the Caps last season. He’s signed through the 2014-15 season and hopes to provide some of the toughness that was lost when Matt Hendricks signed with the Nashville Predators.
“Obviously, Hendy provided a lot of physical play,” he said. “It’s definitely something I may have to pick up a little bit with him leaving. I’ll play the way I do and let the pieces fall where they may.”