Photo Courtesy: Steve Conner www.steveconnerphotography.com
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
It’s May of 2010. The Idaho Steelheads have just been defeated by the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL Kelly Cup championship series. The players return to Boise, slowly clean out their lockers, and begin to make plans to head home for the summer.
But not Steve Oleksy. The then-rookie defenseman moves with a purpose because he, unlike many of his teammates at that moment, has somewhere he needs to be. He has to get back to work.
Just days after the conclusion of that season, Oleksy was back home in Michigan, already working full-time at his other job – managing the Eastside Elite hockey league
, a league that he founded to help players further their hockey careers.
“I developed the idea after struggling for many years to find a competitive league to stay in shape during the summer months,” Oleksy said. “The league is a non-contact summer hockey league that caters to college, pro, and junior players in the Detroit metro area.”
Those players include Oleksy and former Idaho teammate Jimmy Spratt. It also includes NHL 1st-round draft pick Vladislav Namestnikov, the 27th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. It includes Andy Miele, who split the 2011-12 season between the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League and the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes. And don’t forget about Matt Taormina, who will miss at least the first game of the Eastside Elite season as his current team, the New Jersey Devils, competes for the NHL’s Stanley Cup.
“It’s a melting pot for the metro area in Detroit,” Oleksy continued. “It lets midget-major guys play with pro guys and pro guys compete against some top major-junior and college guys.”
The wide swath of player career paths helps keep the tempo at Eastside Elite up, too.
“All the practice in the world can’t compare to game-like situations,” the 26-year-old said. “The benefit for me is, it also gives me a place to play during the offseason and it is rewarding to watch the guys that play in the league climb the ranks and develop.”
Which is precisely what Oleksy himself did. Coming out of Lake Superior State, Oleksy had kicked his way around a couple of leagues, seeking a hockey home, and was contemplating hanging up the skates. That’s when then-Steelheads head coach Derek Laxdal called, in need of another defenseman.
He finished the season with Idaho, playing his way onto the team’s playoff roster, and was a part of Idaho’s 2010 Western Conference championship team. He returned to Idaho the following season and earned his first AHL callup in 2011. After starting the 2011-12 season in Idaho, Oleksy was called up by Bridgeport of the American Hockey League, where he earned himself a one-way AHL contract.
His league, Eastside Elite, could be a platform for someone to follow his lead to that next level.
“There are a handful of guys I could see becoming that next ‘success story,’” he noted. “The league has a top-notch group of up-and-comers. A few have signed NHL deals, a few are expected to be drafted and a number are committed to colleges.”
The league, like Oleksy himself, has come a long way since the spring of 2010. But he won’t forget his time in Idaho as it helped shape him as a player and a person.
“A part of me will always be there (Boise),” he concluded. “I wouldn’t be where I am today, professionally or personally, if it wasn’t for that town, those fans and that team.”