WASHINGTON, D.C. — When former Washington Capitals defenseman Steve Oleksy was growing up, he found himself in the hospital quite a bit, dealing with a variety of illnesses. To stop him from crying, the nurses would tell his mom to put his pacifier — which he called his “binky” — in.
That was where a legacy was born for Oleksy, as he carried — and still carries the nickname “Binky” — through his pro hockey career. Nicklas Backstrom first started calling him it in the dressing room when he arrived in Washington, and that nickname stuck as it became part of “his identity.” However, despite the moniker, he’s quite the tough guy on the ice, relying on a hard-hitting game with fights aplenty.
“It hurts me a little bit more than it used to,” Oleksy said of being the physical presence. “It’s no matter what level, there is only one way I know how to play, and that’s what ultimately allowed me to have the success that I did. That’s the only way I know how to play, so that’s still the game. That hasn’t changed, and it’s not going to change.”
“Binky” became somewhat of an overnight sensation in the District. He was born and raised in Michigan, falling in love with the game and ultimately landing in Sault Ste. Marie to lace ’em up with Lake Superior State University. After an impressive three-year tenure there, Oleksy headed to the ECHL and IHL before landing AHL deals with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Hershey Bears.
Then, in March 2013, following the lockout, Oleksy earned a three-year, entry-level deal with Washington and an immediate call-up to the Capitals.
“First NHL contract, first NHL game, first time I ever walked into an NHL room was for my first NHL game,” he recalled. “I was lucky because it was actually the year of the lockout. So [Braden Holtby] started the season with Hershey and me and Holts became very, very close during our time in Hershey. So coming up I was familiar with him, and he helped me out a lot as well as guys like Karl Alzner and John Carlson and Eric Fehr. We’re still closest friends, in and out of hockey today.”
Wearing No. 61, Oleksy became a fan favorite. He had 106 hits and 100 blocks, along with 86 PIM and multiple fights during his three-year tenure in D.C. He went toe-to-toe with several players in the NHL, and down in Hershey, he also made an impact with his hard-hitting reputation and as a leader, which earned him the “C” with the Bears.
Following his time with the Capitals organization, “Binky” went to lace ’em up for the rival Pittsburgh Penguins. There, he won the Stanley Cup, but still felt a special connection to Washington despite the rivalry. It also became a strange instance where he felt odd drinking his first — and only — sip of alcohol from the Cup with the help of Sidney Crosby.
“It was different,” he noted. “[Crosby’s] an unbelievable person as well. I can’t say enough good things about him but to be able to play with a guy like Ovi and Sid, two of the best players of our generation, that kind of builds into the whole Stanley Cup experience and then Washington doing it a couple of years later.”
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Oleksy was watching the Capitals closely while playing for the San Diego Gulls in the Anaheim Ducks organization in 2017-18, and he felt even more joy seeing his former teammates lift the Cup. He had been part of the years of heartbreak, and to see it end meant a lot to the now 36-year-old.
And despite being in a different organization and also having played with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Marlies, Oleksy has always felt a special connection, something that has made Washington a permanent second home. His time with the Capitals also made him never take a day in the Show for granted.
“I cherished every second here in Washington and every second at the NHL level. Enjoyed it and didn’t take anything for granted. And when I looked back, I think that was probably one of the biggest accomplishments in my career was just understanding how temporary hockey is and enjoying every moment. I was very fortunate in the Washington organization to have some incredible people surrounding me. Some generational players and guys that have become lifetime friends.
“I just tried to enjoy every second of it. Without the expectation, it was easy and with the guys I had around me, it was easy to just kind of come in and play. I definitely wasn’t worried about tomorrow,” he added. “I was focused on today. And every day I came to the rink, I shared that approach. Fortunately, I got to spend a little bit of extended time here and it was some of the best memories in my life, that’s for sure.”
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Oleksy had decided to hang up the skates in 2021 and didn’t play during the 2020-21 campaign amid the pandemic. Away from the ice, he got to spend time with family and friends and also started his own coffee company, Elite Coffee Co., inspired yet again by a routine he had in the District.
“Not drinking, coffee became a very big passion of mine. Holts was one of the first guys I started to enjoy pregame coffees with on our way to Hershey. Got super into coffee, it’s like, most people have wine or beer or whatever it may be. For me, that’s coffee,” Oleksy said. “So started to take a strong passion towards coffee and learn a lot about it. And then I was playing in California, and actually they did a special on me and I became very close to somebody who has a super successful coffee shop in California and learned a lot from them. Just kind of ran with it. I was spending a lot on coffee. I said, ‘spending so much on coffee, I may as well start a coffee company and had some fun with it.'”
But in 2021-22, hockey came calling again, and Oleksy came out of retirement to return to the pros.
So, where is Steve Oleksy now?
“Steve Oleksy is spending time in between Orlando and Detroit,” he smiled.
He now plays for the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears, where he has brought back his physicality, leadership and fisticuffs. Going forward, he’s ready to keep making an impact. But in the end, the Capitals were the first team to teach him one lesson: enjoy the ride.
“No matter what level or how old or how young you are, just try to enjoy every moment. Understand how temporary hockey is,” Oleksy said.