Comment: Travis Oleksuk and that weird, final interview

To adapt a football expression, ice hockey is a funny old game.

Sunday, 31st October 2021, 10:37 am
Olekusk in action. vf Notts Pic by Dean Woolley

As a journalist, you never know what you are going to hear when you interview anyone in this crazy sport.

Over three decades I've had memorable chats with the likes of David Longstaff, Tim Cranston, Ken Priestlay and Dion Darling, to name but a few.

As a journalist, when you've finished talking to Jason Hewitt, you simply have to scatter his gold dust quotes on to a page.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

When you've spoken to Jimmy Hibbert, you need a lie down in a darkened room.

It's all good fun, although I’ve had some exceptionally testing conversations over the years: characters like Ben Simon, Ed Courtenay, Drew Fata and Grant Sjerven, spring to mind.

But my chin wag with Travis Oleksuk, on October 17, this year, will stay with me.

Let's give this some context.

Travis Oleksuk and family

I'd really wanted this native of Thunder Bay, Canada, to be a success in Sheffield. His dad is a pal of Alex Dampier, former Steelers coach, who is a friend of mine.

So in my videod talk with the centreman, I'd asked him about his commitment to Sheffield following lengthy associations with previous clubs.

At Graz99ers, in Austria, he'd stayed loyal for three years. He'd had two seasons at HC Bolzano, Italy. That had followed three years in the AHL with Worcester Sharks.

"Are you the type of guy who likes to commit to a team for multiple years?" I asked.

Coventry victorious at Sheffield Arena. Pic Dean Woolley

He replied: "I think it is always nice...I think anybody would choose to stay in one spot for a long amount of time rather than packing up bags and moving on to a new spot all the time."

Great, I thought, we'll have him for a while. The Dampier link in the extended hockey family would remain.

I then asked Olekusk how important it was for him to win a UK trophy.

His reply, in hindsight, was more diplomatic than specific. "It is always the goal," he said.

Five short days later, the club announced Oleksuk had quit and was off to an Austrian team. Those negotiations had been going on "for a while."

It was a head-scratcher for me. I'd never seen it coming.

The puzzle continued. When I tracked Oleksuk down he claimed the opportunity to play in Austria again was his prime motive.

The club's view contrasted - they thought his wife had wanted to have their next child in Austria, where they perceived she'd enjoy a closer support network.

Then it struck home, for me. The hockey family ethic can be a strong one, but real family begins and ends at your front door.

Hockey is really important, but it's not as important as real life.

Since Oleksuk left, Steelers have lost two of three games, but the dip in form is unlikely to continue.

Wednesday's home defeat by Coventry wasn't to do with one player who had left - it was related more to a collective lapse.

You might see that again; but not often.

As for conversations like mine with Oleksuk, I'm hoping that's a rarity too. I don't want to have the wool pulled over my eyes again, any time soon.