It was a memorable night for Caps rookie defenseman Steve Oleksy. At age 27 he made his NHL debut at Verizon Center against the Boston Bruins. Just over 24 hours earlier he was watching ‘Jack the Giant Slayer” at a movie theatre in central Pennsylvania while his phone – on silent during the movie – blew up with messages.
It wasn’t until the movie ended that he realized everyone was trying to get in touch with him – his trainer, his agent, Peter Cooney, whose message simply said “Call me ASAP.” That’s usually a good thing for a hockey player. Hershey general manager Doug Yingst even went so far as to call Bears teammate Mike Carman, who is Oleksy’s roommate and was at the movie with him.
Oleksy’s parents, Andy and Sue, his brother Dan and his girlfriend, Nikki, drove all through the night from Michigan to catch his debut. Four more friends from his hometown in Michigan surprised Oleksy by flying in Tuesday afternoon.
That crew witnessed Oleksy’s first NHL game and his first point, too. He stopped a Zdeno Chara clearing attempt, fluttered a pass towards the net and watched as Alex Ovechkin settled it at about shoulder height with his stick and slid a pass to Mike Ribeiro for an easy goal. Simple, huh?
Earlier in the day, head coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Calle Johansson both pulled Oleksy aside and tried to explain what they wanted from him. Yes, he’s a physical presence. Yes, he’s already had 11 fights in the AHL this season. But they didn’t need him overplaying that aspect of his game. That wasn’t the only reason he was signed and recalled, Oates insisted earlier in the day. Oleksy’s new teammates, including fellow defenseman Tomas Kundratek and goalie Braden Holtby, among others, put him at ease as well. Both of those players were with Oleksy at Hershey earlier this season.
“They definitely made me feel comfortable and that’s always nice,” Oleksy said. “The guys here as well helping me out. A couple guys came up and talked to me. Obviously it’s a big deal. But they told me kind of what they went through [during their NHL debuts] and how to play it. So definitely helped and it definitely made the first shift a lot easier.”
What else made the first period easier? A booming hit on Boston forward Gregory Campbell behind the Washington goal that drew a roar from the crowd. In 10:05 of ice time Oleksy had that secondary assist, two shots on goal and another blocked and was also credited with two hits and three blocks. He was a +2 for the night. Not a bad start.
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