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Steckel's skill in circle key for Caps

by Dan Rosen

Washington Capitals rookie, David Steckel, scored a goal in his first NHL playoff game. David Steckel highlights
ARLINGTON, Va. – Washington Capitals center David Steckel holds a degree in international business from Ohio State University, a personal accomplishment that may trump anything he ever does in the National Hockey League.

However, Steckel wants nothing to do with that little piece of paper from OSU.

"Ohio State has a top-15 business school and I am one to be better at math than English and I don't like writing papers, but I don't want to leave the rink," Steckel said. "I would not want to use the degree one bit, to be honest with you."

Steckel instead sees himself entering the coaching ranks one day. If he gets his way, though, that won't happen for quite some time.

The Capitals' 26-year-old checking-line center is trying to carve his own niche in the NHL, and he's done some good chiseling this season.

Prior to breaking his right index finger March 5, Steckel had won a team-best 56.3-percent of his faceoffs while contributing 12 points on five goals and seven assists in 67 games. He entered this season with 12 games of NHL experience during the previous two seasons.

Steckel returned Friday for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers and made a quick impression with a second-period goal that helped Washington to a 5-4 victory. He also won eight of his 12 faceoffs.

Steckel was back on the ice for Game 2 Sunday night at the Verizon Center.

"The dream came true when I made it this year out of training camp and became a full-time player," Steckel said. "When I first came to the organization (in 2005), it was a feel-me-out time.

Last year, I tried to come in a little heavier and I wasn't as fast. This year, I came in at what I thought was the ideal weight (222 pounds) and in better shape. I was 25 and it was kind of my last shot. I played that way and have been playing that way ever since."

Steckel is more than just a third-line energy player for the Caps. He's essential to his team because of his ability to win faceoffs, which he did 507 times this season, against 393 losses.

Steckel also is a key penalty-killer.

"I've always been kind of the third-line guy and on the penalty kill, but in order to be out there at the end of the game, you need to win draws," he said. "That's definitely something I pride myself on."

So what's the secret?

"Don't lose," Steckel deadpanned.

Well, duh. What else?

"I think size and leverage is the main thing," said Steckel, who at 6-foot-5 has plenty of both. "You get all of your power from leverage, and the more you get, the better you're going to be. There are other secrets here and there, but they wouldn't be secrets if I gave them out."
Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau wants him to stay quiet, too.

"I think puck-possession is really important and, quite frankly, you overlook faceoffs a lot of times, but if you can win 60 percent of them it usually means it's out of your zone or in their zone most of the time," Boudreau said prior to Game 1 against the Flyers. "We want to play as much in their zone as we can."

Boudreau knows how important Steckel can be to the Capitals if they plan to make a long playoff journey. He coached him the last three seasons in the American Hockey League, including the 2004-05 season in Manchester and the last two in Hershey.

The Bears, Washington's AHL affiliate, won the 2006 Calder Cup thanks in large part to Steckel, who had 10 goals and five assists in 21 games. He had another six goals and nine assists in last season's 19-game playoff run.

"He was arguably one of the best playoff performers we had in the last two years, and you miss that," Boudreau said in reference to what the Caps were lacking with Steckel sidelined in March. "You can't overlook size and determination in the playoffs."

Said Steckel's linemate, Matt Bradley: "He works hard and he can contribute offensively, but his big job is shutting down whoever we're playing against. When you have a big body like him, he's tough to get around, and when he gets a hold of you in our own zone it's really tough to get away from him."

He works hard and he can contribute offensively, but his big job is shutting down whoever we're playing against. When you have a big body like him, he's tough to get around, and when he gets a hold of you in our own zone it's really tough to get away from him. - Matt Bradley
Steckel, who turned 26 on March 15, said he knew exactly what he needed to do in training camp to make the Capitals' roster this season. It helped that he got a similar message from Washington GM George McPhee.

"Play the way I played the last two years down in Hershey," said Steckel, who had 44 goals and 61 assists in 145 regular-season games in Hershey. "It wasn't a secret. I just needed to be better. Offensively, it hasn't been ideal for me yet, but when I came into the AHL my first year was pretty much the same. I improved from there. I have to be a strong two-way player and go out there to provide energy.

"When I looked at it, it's 12 games in the last two years, but I want to be a part of 82 games for a change. That's the type of mentality I took in training camp."

When McPhee switched coaches from Glen Hanlon to Boudreau on Thanksgiving Day, it put Steckel in an even better situation to stay with the big club. Boudreau always has been in his corner.

"Any time you have somebody that you have been to war with before, he knows what you can do," Steckel said. "It doesn't make it easier to play in the NHL, but you get a little more peace of mind, I guess."

That's exactly what Boudreau has when Steckel skates into the faceoff circle.

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