It’s late on Monday night when I arrive in Michigan at the Mt. Clemens Ice Arena and Fitness Center. Exhausted after a 13-hour drive and not totally sure what to expect upon arrival I gather my things and head into the facility. A player not more than 20 years old carrying a beat-up, well-traveled hockey bag holds open the door for me and as I walk past the all too familiar scent of hockey gear fills my nostrils; it’s like coming home.
I have come to observe, interview and get to know the men and women who play in the Eastside Elite summer league, a no-contact fast-paced league designed to help the best of the best stay in shape during the short hockey off-season. I am almost immediately greeted by the founder of Eastside Elite, Washington Capitals defenseman Steven Oleksy and was almost just as quickly discussing our goals for my trip to Detroit. It became obvious within the first 60 seconds of our conversation that the busy Oleksy is far more deeply involved with his summer league than anyone could truly begin to understand.
Oleksy knows the story behind every player in his league; who they play for, who their parents are, who their siblings are, if they plan on attending university and where, what they struggle with, and what kind of people they are. Another thing is apparent, his players and all of the people involved with Eastside Elite respect and love the hometown D-man, and it’s not just Steven they are looking up to. Eastside Elite is truly a family affair, and one look into the time-keepers box tells you why, you’ll find Oleksy’s father or mother diligently keeping time or stats, devoted to the league their son has poured his time and care into, his brother never far from the rink either.
This summer saw the addition of a girl’s league to Eastside Elite, something Oleksy is proud of and eager to see develop. Rosters are full and games are fast, proving that the girls are just as eager to play and develop their skills as the boys are; they are encouraged and mentored at Eastside to become the best players they can possibly be.
Each team has developed their own unique signature when it comes to their chemistry and goals are celebrated just as much as disappointments on the ice are met with frustration. Eastside has managed to preserve the importance of hard-work and dedication to the game at all times and shows no sign of letting up on the quiet belief seen in every player that this is where they need to be no matter how late the nights or how challenging the competition.
I spoke with many players throughout my 48 hours with Eastside, each with a unique story, an individual motivation and a burning fire behind their eyes for the sport that draws us all together. Stay locked to the GSH blog for their stories, their struggles and their unwavering dedication to the game they love. This dear gongers is my summer series for you, the men and women of Eastside Elite.
W.S.P. Gongers and stay dedicated! You can check out Eastside Elite by clicking HERE!
A-Snow (4J) @AmySnow17