By @MichaelCaples –
Every summer, some of the best young hockey players in Michigan come together to compete in a summer conditioning league created by Steven Oleksy.
The NHL defenseman, a Chesterfield native, started the Eastside Elite Hockey League in 2008 to bring Michigan’s top talent (and players staying here for the summer) from Midgets all the way to the NHL together for competitive games to stay in shape and stay in touch.
The start of the 2014 Eastside Elite Hockey League is less than a week away.
“The nice thing about the league is with everybody knowing each other and understanding that it is summer hockey, they’re obviously playing for a lot more serious things when the real season rolls around,” Oleksy said. “It’s no hitting, no fighting, no contact, anything like that, but standard rules apply. Icing, offsides, it’s five-on-five, penalties, everything like that. Two-minute penalties, game play is three 15-minute periods with a cut between every two periods.”
“For summer hockey, it is very, very high pace, so it allows the guys to get a good break and a lot of the guys take that time to socialize in the locker room, talk and catch up, talk about their seasons and things like that.”
That’s the best part, according to Oleksy. The Lake Superior State alum said that keeping in shape is important to the participants, but connecting with former teammates and making new hockey friends makes the Eastside Elite league something more special.
“For me, and for a lot of people, that’s what we really look forward to,” Oleksy said. “With the league, everybody knows each other, and it’s such a friendly, social environment, the biggest thing about the league is that a lot of guys who maybe went their separate ways throughout their careers, they can reconnect in the summers.
“I had a good story last year, when two guys were rivals in the playoffs in the North American league, and then they ended up playing on the same team. They didn’t like each other during the season, and then they became buddies when they got to know each other. I see a lot of that happening. It is a very tight-knit community, so it brings everybody closer when you get a chance to sit and talk with guys from other teams or guys you’re just getting to know for the first time.”
Notable Eastside Elite league alumni include:
- Andy Miele
- Jack Campbell
- Danny DeKeyser
- Matt Taormina
- Vladislav Namestnikov
- Cameron Schilling
- Andrew Hammond
- Corey Tropp
- CJ Motte
- Steven Kampfer
- Chad Billins
- Jeff Lerg
- Pat Davis
- Zach Trotman
- Brian Felsner
- John Gruden
The league, which also introduced a girls’ division two summers ago, is made up of team rosters built by Oleksy. That means that in between workouts and other summer responsibilities, the NHLer is playing GM and league president, while also making sure the players get paired up properly.
“It’s actually a pretty fun science, and that’s the most fun part about running the league,” Oleksy said. “I have everybody register online, and under the registration is a slot that says preferred teammates, so they’ll jot down two or three guys, and I’ll make sure those guys are together, and then mutual connections are made and guys who have played together in the past, or live in the same area for carpool purposes and things like that, I make sure everybody’s got a good core group of their buddies.
“The hockey world’s so small that everybody kind of connects in one way or another, so I develop 12 teams just kind of by that formula. I’ll get a chunk of three or four guys here, a chunk of three or four guys there, and I’ve actually been lucky in the last couple years, I’ve had a couple guys step up and they’ll give me a full roster of guys, they’ve got a good group of buddies and it works good for me because it takes the thinking out of it when somebody hands me a list of 16 guys.”
Players taking part in the Eastside Elite Hockey League this season include college standouts Tyler Motte, Alex Kile, Trevor Hamilton, Mackenzie MacEachern and Thomas Ebbing.
Oleksy said he’s happy to put in the work necessary to run the Eastside Elite league because it’s one way he can give back to the sport.
“It’s such a big reward to know that the game that has given me so much, I can help give some of that back to kids,” the 28-year-old defenseman said. “To watch a big group of guys come to me and watch them go through the ranks, start in midget major and go through junior A. A few years ago I had a big group come to me, they all played on Honeybaked and from there, a lot of them went to Green Bay and they won a championship and then from there a lot of them went to Michigan and Michigan State. To watch other guys, you don’t want to say you’re part of their success, but you’re happy for them and obviously knowing everybody on a personal level, it’s a great, great feeling to see all the success and the crazy amount of talent that is in this area.
“Obviously Michigan’s been known as a hockey hotbed for quite a while, but to pool all that in and see in the summer, everybody kind of scatters throughout different leagues all over the place during the year, but to bring it all into one league and one area in the summer, it’s an incredible feeling, and I know that a lot of parents enjoy it too. There’s a lot of brothers that play together in the league that wouldn’t normally get a chance to play together, so that’s always a fun thing to see, too.”
Oleksy said that he has plans of establishing an executive committee this year, bringing six to eight players in to help with the administrative side of the league, because his goal along has been that the league is run by everyone, not just him.
And who’s to say the Eastside Elite league has to stay on the eastside of Michigan? During his travels – Oleksy has played in the NAHL, NCAA, CCHA, ECHL, IHL, AHL and NHL, after all – he’s heard from other players hailing from other areas interested in assembling their own version of the league.
“I’ve kind of been in talks, and it’s something I’ve been looking at doing, I want to get more hockey players involved,” he said. “Playing all over, guys have talked to me, ‘wish I had something like that in my area,’ so I kind of want to expand it a little bit, let some other guys get involved with that. Help them out, maybe get one going in their area, and then kind of bring it together, one of the things that crossed my mind was starting another one in a different location and then bringing the two together and having a championship series between the two championship series at a nice rink like a Joe Louis or a Van Andel, and kind of doing that.
“Everybody has so much fun with it, being that it is no-contact and no-fighting, it’s a great way to stay in shape, no matter what you do in the summer practice-wise, there’s nothing like game situations and game shape. To make it fun and allow other guys to get involved and put their opinions in and kind of help me run it and run it by committee, I think there’s a lot of room for expansion, and I’m going to look to do that as we move forward.”