There are a few things that come to mind when one thinks of Southwest Florida. Retirees driving slow going nowhere, the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and a surprising lack of urban over-development are some things that come to mind. College Hockey in December in Southwest Florida though is on the minds of some here, as the Everblades College Classic brings to town hockey teams from Cornell, Ohio State, U-Mass Amherst, and Maine.
One of the promising players competing for Ohio State is Center David Steckel, who was drafted 30th overall in 2001 by the Los Angeles Kings, who along with fellow first rounder R.J. Umberger (16th overall, 2001, Vancouver) have helped propel Ohio State to be ranked 9th overall in the USCHO.com college rankings.
Ohio State coach John Markell counts on Steckel as the defensive presence for the 2nd line, and has had the opportunity to see his development from last year.
“Physically he is a lot stronger, I think mentally he is a lot more stable with being a young kid getting drafted in the first round.” Markell told Hockey’s Future, “He didn’t understand how teams would come at him and check him, he didn’t have that notoriety before and all of a sudden he did.”
“He is smart, really good defensively and thinks the game well. Sometimes he takes enough chances that he is testing his development, which can sometimes make you crazy but you want to see that he is confident enough, and that he can do that to make up the ground coming back with a defensive play.”
After Ohio State shut out Cornell the tournament, Hockey’s Future was able to spend a few moments with the LA Kings prospect to discuss his year, the World Juniors, his teammate RJ Umberger, and his time learning the pugilistic arts with a Blue Jacket.
Hockey’s Future: So this was the last game of the tournament and you guys came out of it in 3rd place, what was your overall feeling of the tournament?
Dave Steckel: I thought it was a pretty good time. Down in Florida, we had a great turnout and the weather was great. Obviously the ice was a little softer with the warm weather. It is a great facility and we had a great place to stay. Pretty much overall it was a great atmosphere.
Hockey’s Future: You and teammate R.J. Umberger, two years ago you both were selected in the first round. What was that like for you guys coming together being both first rounders with different teams.
Dave Steckel: That was great experience for us actually. We met each other at the draft and then we hung out with each other. Whenever you get drafted in the first round, it is exciting no matter who it was. It was fortunate that we got drafted by great teams and I think that made a big difference in the way we felt.
Hockey’s Future: Since the draft, have the Kings been in contact with you.
Dave Steckel: I keep in touch on a regular basis. They keep in touch as well and see how things are going and see how I am progressing along.
Hockey’s Future: Have they given you any ideas on roles they want you to play, what they want to focus on, or do they let the coach here decide on what he wants to have you do?
Dave Steckel: I know my role is going to be a 3rd line center, and hopefully they know it too. I am not one who puts the puck in the net like R.J.. I am not all offense, I get my offense from my defense and I think that is how I am going to be successful.
Hockey’s Future: Tell me more about your role here at Ohio State the last year or two.
Dave Steckel: Pretty much offense. Freshmen year I had a great year playing with my linemates. Last year was a little bit different, and I tried playing a lot of center against the tougher teams we played against and I was switching back and forth. This year, I am really steady on a line with Scott May and Paul Caponigri, we are putting the puck in the net. I pretty much take full responsibility for defense on that line, and I let them fly around out there.
Hockey’s Future: Now I noticed today that you seemed to be getting a lot of physical attention by Cornell, has that been a constant with every single team you have played against out there?
Dave Steckel: Yeah, definitely! Ever since my Freshman year I get that kind of attention. They try to talk out there and I am just out there protecting my guys as well as they are.
Hockey’s Future: Has the physical attention you received ever gotten totally out of hand?
Dave Steckel: It’s a nuisance, I mean game, next game and it wears on you but you get breaks here and there.
Hockey’s Future: Do you at least get to ever have fun with it? You know, when the little small guys will try to come after you?
Dave Steckel: I am not going to say I don’t run my mouth off out there, so you know, it gets fun.
Hockey’s Future: So far, what has been the high-point for you so far?
Dave Steckel: Being successful the way we are. I think this year’s team has been different than the last two. We have great guys on the team, we have been playing really well, we are playing as a cohesive unit and moving up the rankings and finally getting nationally rankings consistently. We just come to play every weekend and this year we have been really doing it and having fun.
Hockey’s Future: Does it help that you have the Blue Jackets in the same city as you.
Dave Steckel: I think so. Over the summer we have skated with those guys and they always offer advice on things to do. You always take it because they are trying to make you better.
Hockey’s Future: Any player in particular been giving you good advice?
Dave Steckel: I talked with Jody Shelley, and he has had some good words on the physical standpoint of the game and I always appreciate that. Deron Quint before he got traded, he was helpful and a really great guy.
Hockey’s Future: You mentioned Jody Shelley, did he give you tips on the pugilistic side of the game?
Dave Steckel: Yeah, (laughing) I am sure I am going to have one or two fights in the NHL.
Hockey’s Future: What did he tell you?
Hockey’s Future: Keep your head up. I am 6’5’’ and probably will be the tallest guy out there, so a couple of hints on the jersey grabbing and stuff.
Hockey’s Future: Essentially getting you ready for being the biggest guy on the ice. Another common theme you probably hear is that the bigger players taking long to develop. You are aware of the theme?
Dave Steckel: Yeah, I am definitely aware of it. I am not a skill player by far, but I do think I have better feet than most guys and I think that is why I got drafted in the first round. I am 215 right now, and I am fully aware I have to get up there to at least 225. I don’t put on weight easily but it takes time, everyone says it takes time and I am just going through that right now.
Hockey’s Future: Having played for the USA in the World Junior last year, have you been following them so far this tournament?
Dave Steckel: I read in the newspaper about the first game, unfortunately we got beat by Russia in a tough first game. I am sure Lou Vairo, he is a great guy, he came up with us to Russia last year, he knows what he is doing and he will turn them around.
Hockey’s Future: Who have you had a chance to play with on the team now?
Dave Steckel:Ryan Kesler, that was it from this team. Looking over their roster, they got a great group of character guys who know how to win.
Hockey’s Future: Dave, thanks for your time and we wish you continued success.
Dave Steckel: My pleasure, thank you.