WASHINGTON – Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy has never played an NHL game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, but the Michigan native is no stranger to the Red Wings’ home arena.
“I have some pretty fond memories, but I think the one that probably stands out the most was the first time I played there, which was for a championship back in Squirts,” Oleksy says.
“I was 11 or 12, we had a championship game there for the Little Creaser’s Playoffs and to win there was a big deal back then. All the family comes to watch you at the Joe and now a number of years later they get to come back and watch you again so it’s going to be a thrill.”
Oleksy grew up in Chesterfield, about 30 miles north of Detroit, and Friday he returns to Joe Louis Arena for the first time as an NHL defenseman when the Capitals face the Red Wings [7:30 p.m., WFED 1500AM and www.wfed.com ].
While Oleksy has skated and trained at Joe Louis Arena with other Michigan-based hockey players in previous off-seasons, the chance to “play there for real” is a longtime coming, he says. Oleksy, considered by many to be an NHL long shot, made his big league debut last season at the age of 27 after stints with seven minor league teams in three different leagues.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” he says of playing an NHL game in his home state for the first time.
“Anytime you grow up going to the Joe and watching a lot of Red Wings games, you see it from the other side of things [as a fan], so to be playing now it’s a great feeling and it’s a great accomplishment,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to it and it’s something that I’m excited about.”
Apparently he isn’t alone.
Oleksy says ticket requests started to pour in over the summer and that some friends and family have had to fend for themselves.
“We’re pretty limited when it comes to team tickets, so a lot of people went out and got them on their own, which I greatly appreciate,” Oleksy says.
“Obviously, with a game this like this, there are a lot of things that could be outside distractions so to limit those and to have a lot of people go out and get [tickets] on their own, it’s awesome and there’s going to be a great fan base there.”
With Mike Green expected to miss his first game of the season due to a lower body injury, it’s possible that Oleksy sees an increase in strength ice time against a Red Wings club that will look to snap a six-game home losing streak. Prior to the Capitals leaving for Detroit, Oleksy spoke of the importance of treating the Caps’ only visit to Detroit this season “like any other game.”
“Obviously, it’s an important game for myself and for the team, so there are always other times to see family and friends,” he says.
“But they’ve got to understand that this is my job and come [game day], it’s a business trip. It’s time to work.”
The Red Wings have sold out 111 consecutive games at Joe Louis Arena dating back to 2010, and Capitals head coach Adam Oates, who played for the Red Wings from 1985 to1989, is well aware of the history that fills one of the NHL’s oldest buildings.
“There is an intimidation factor,” Oates says.
“There are a lot of [Stanley Cup] banners up there and a lot of famous players [six retired sweaters]