WASHINGTON – Perhaps, if only for just a second, Steve Olesky took a moment to soak it all in.
As his Washington Capitals teammates were getting surrounded by a throng of media that was five or six rows deep in the cramped confines of the Verizon Center’s home locker room, the former ECHL defenseman was sitting at his locker, chatting with the handful of people who stopped by.
The former member of the Las Vegas Wranglers, Toledo Walleye and Idaho Steelheads has an interesting story to tell, one that many never believed would culminate with a call-up to the National Hockey League.
"It’s been a great experience and obviously, it’s just beginning," Oleksy told ECHL.com.
"I think it’s a credit to the whole organization and the guys in the locker room making me feel welcome and making me feel like a part of the team, making me feel comfortable. It makes it easier to contribute and go out there and do what I can to help the team, whether it be shutdown D or try to chip in offensively or just doing whatever it takes."
Oleksy, 27, has been a surprisingly big part of the Capitals run to the Southeast Division title. In 28 games, the gritty blueliner has posted nine points, but downplays the role he’s played in getting Washington back into the postseason.
"Like I said, it’s everybody in the locker room," he said.
"It’s not just me, it’s not just the big name guys, it’s everybody together. I think we’ve shown throughout the last month that we’re an explosive team and we have a chance to do some damage if we continue to play within the system and do what it takes to win."
Oleksy’s first professional playoff experience came in the 2010 Kelly Cup Playoffs with the Steelheads, where he and his Idaho teammates advanced all the way to the Kelly Cup Finals. At no point, Oleksy says, did he think that he’d be playing for the game’s ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.
"I think if you start thinking too far ahead, I think you start to lose focus," he said. "Playing in the (ECHL) level, my focus was helping out whatever team I was on any way I could by battling and showing up and working on my game and trying to excel and move on to the next level. Fortunately, I was able to do that. I kind of carried that motto to the American League too; show up to work, put in extra time, do whatever it takes to get better and round my game out. It’s a great feeling that Washington believed in me and kind of rewarded me for the hard work."
"Hard work" perhaps best describes the grind it takes to be successful in the ECHL. Combine the lockout-shortened season with Oleksy’s experience with playing 3-in-3’s, 4-in-5’s and 5-in-7’s, and it might just have been the perfect scenario for him to make his debut in one of the more unique NHL campaigns in league history.
"As a hockey player, it’s your job to take of yourself and be ready to play and grind it out," he said. "With the short season and packing so many games in pretty tight, the 3-in-3’s and 4-in-5’s, it definitely will help you and prepare you for that. It shows you how to keep doing what it takes to get your body ready for the next game and baring down and finding a way to work up the energy to battle for 60 or 65 minutes, whatever it takes."