For better or for worse, there are still three months left in what may serve as the most memorable calendar year in Dave Steckel’s life.
Steckel started the year by playing as a member of the Washington Capitals in the Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a packed house at Heinz Field. While what everyone seems to be taking from his experience there is his unfortunate run-in with Sidney Crosby, Steckel chooses to remember the game differently.
"It was amazing. Unfortunately, it won’t be that way, but I hope every player got an opportunity to do something like that, it’s pretty unbelievable," Steckel told ECHL.com in February.
"I don’t know the football players do it when they have media day (at the Super Bowl), because it was pretty overwhelming at times. But at the same token, it was great to have family and friends there. I don’t think I’ll ever play in front of 70,000 people again, so I just wanted to relish the opportunity."
Steckel was dealt at the end of February to the New Jersey Devils along with the Capitals second round draft pick in 2012 in exchange for Jason Arnott. Steckel struggled in Newark, however, posting just one point in 18 games and fell out of favor this preseason with the emergence of fellow ECHL alum Brad Mills.
The 29-year-old center was subsequently dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for a fourth-round pick, and will likely occupy a spot on one of their bottom two lines.
While the road in the NHL has been a bumpy one for the Milwaukee native recently, the road just to get there was a difficult one as well. Steckel was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the NHL Draft back in 2001, which was held in Florida that year.
"It was a good experience and something good for any player to go through," Steckel said. "I was lucky enough to get drafted in the first round, so it was a pretty proud moment for myself."
After a four-year run at Ohio State University came to an end, Steckel made his pro debut in 2004-05, primarily playing with the Kings AHL affiliate in Manchester, but also getting into nine games with the ECHL’s Reading Royals.
"Obviously, it was a tough year. It was the year of the lockout, so there were a good of players around," he said.
"Reading was a great town when I was there, and I was proud to be a part of their organization for the time being. I look back now, and it was a great experience. It was quite humbling, but at the same time it makes you work harder to get into the NHL quicker."
Steckel posted a 3-6-9 line in his nine games with the Royals, but jokingly insists it wasn’t as easy as he made it look.
"We had a pretty good team down there," he said. "It was great to play with those types of players for my rookie season and get to know everybody and get to learn the ropes."
A free agent following the season, Steckel signed with the Washington Capitals based on a recommendation made by Bruce Boudreau, who had just joined the organization as their AHL coach after serving in a similar capacity with the Kings. Steckel called Boudreau, who coached in the ECHL as well, "a great coach who wears his heart on his sleeve that stands by you no matter what happens."
The move to follow his old coach to a new organization paid immediate dividends, as not only did Steckel get to join the prolific Hershey Bears, but also got to make his NHL Debut on Dec. 31, 2005 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Playing that first game is always a childhood dream," Steckel said.
"The steps I had to take to get there, perhaps it was a little longer than the normal route. So it was very gratifying for myself to get there."
Steckel would play in seven NHL games in 2005-06 and five more in 2006-07 before making his first NHL Opening Night roster with Washington in 2007-08. In 309 NHL games, Steckel has registered 24 goals and 35 assists and played in at least 75 games over each of the past three seasons.