Sam Steel: A Blend of Two WorldsDec 7, 2018
By Steve Brown
Southern California doesn’t resemble Alberta much. Not in the slightest.
For Sam Steel, there aren’t a lot of parallels between the two locales besides a game he loves. Growing up his father built a rink in the backyard. He skated in the frigid temperatures of Canadian winters and now he’s walking the beaches in Southern California in flip flops.
“This all new for me, about this time of year you’re usually out in the cold,” said Steel, a 2016 Anaheim Ducks first round selection (30th overall). “Even when I was a kid skating on the outdoor rink by now. It’s different (worlds) for sure.”
He’s a world away from where he grew up in the suburbs of Edmonton in Ardrossan, Alberta, roughly 1,700 miles to be exact. He plied his trade in nearby Sherwood Park during his bantam and midget years before moving to Regina, Saskatchewan to play for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League.
It was before he even began his tenure with the Pats that he developed a passion for the game of hockey and looked up watching two dynamic centers compete in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals.
“I always loved watching hockey, watching with my brother, dad and family all the time growing up,” said the 5-11 center. “I loved watching (Sidney) Crosby for one, and (Pavel) Datsyuk too. I love watching hockey. You can pick up a thing or two in every game. There’s so many great players out there that you can learn from almost everybody.”
He learned quick growing up with a strong support group of family and his billet family in Regina. That learning on and off the ice translated to him being drafted in June 2016 as the final selection of the first round.
The following season he set the junior hockey world afire. He was named WHL Player of the Year and won the Bob Clarke Trophy as the WHL’s top scorer after earning 50-81=131 points with a +49 rating in 66 games with Regina in 2016-17. Not to mention his 131 points led all Canadian Hockey League players, the most in the CHL by a player age 19-or-younger since Patrick Kane (145, London) and John Tavares (134, Oshawa) in 2006-07. His feats didn’t stop there as his 1.98 points per game average were the highest of any WHL player age 19-or-under since Jarome Iginla recorded 2.16 for Kamloops in 1995-96.
“I’ve had a really great support team around me growing up,” said Steel. “My dad, obviously, always being there for my development as a player and a person. First and foremost your family, they’re definitely responsible for who you become and how you grow up.”
He grew up on the big stage in Regina, one where he not only posted uncanny numbers, but a world-wide stage in the 2017-18 season where he was a prominent player in both the World Junior Championship and Memorial Cup.
In helping lead Canada to a gold medal in January he posted nine points (4G/5A) and followed up with a regular season for Regina that topped out at 83 points (33G/50A). But it was the Memorial Cup, where Regina was hosting the annual four-team tournament featuring the top teams from each junior league (WHL, OHL, QMJHL).
All he did was lead all skaters in points (2-11=13) and assists in five games during the Memorial Cup to be named Memorial Cup MVP. He tallied five assists (all primary) on May 23 vs. Swift Current to tie a Memorial Cup record for assists in a single game, held by Jonathan Drouin (Halifax Moosehead – May 26, 2013) and Dan Hodgson (Prince Albert – May 14, 1985). He also scored the game-winning goal in a 4-2 Semi-Final win on May 27 vs. Hamilton. The Pats and Steel fell in the Memorial Cup Final to the Acadie Bathurst Titan.
Looking back at the season he had, it’s easy to tell what representing his country meant and coming out a champion.
“I think it would probably be the World Juniors,” said Steel when asked what was more rewarding, the WJC win or the Memorial Cup. “That’s been my dream since a little kid, so to be able to play in the World Juniors and win it was just a crazy-special feeling. Playing in the Memorial Cup was an unbelievable experience. We didn’t come out on top, but especially to host it and see the city get behind you, it was a cool experience.”
It’s his first professional season in the Ducks organization, one that began with him making the Anaheim roster out of training camp and beginning his career in the NHL. He played in 13 games altogether with the Ducks, scoring his first NHL goal and earning three points (1G/2A). He was assigned to San Diego at the conclusion of October and, after a slow start, begun to pile on the points, including an AHL career high three points (2G/1A) on Nov. 23 vs. Stockton.
“There’s so many differences, the speed, the physicality, the maturity of the game. You’re a pro now and you have to treat your body like a pro,” he said. “You come in to practice every day, just seeing how everyone works and trying to get better. In this league, everyone is trying to make that step up to the NHL and when you’re there, everyone is trying to stay there so it’s a constant grind. Guys are really dedicated to take that next step and I think it’s a great environment. Especially here in San Diego, everybody is working hard every day so it’s awesome.”
He has the right mentality on what it means to be a professional, in being conscious about weight training and his diet and the subtle differences every decision means. To stay in the league, and ultimately stick in the NHL is one thing, but any advantage he can get, he’ll take.
The game is starting to slow down, and his adaption to it while become the playmaker the world say on the largest stages of his junior career are starting to show in his game.
“I think it’s just coming down here, getting that offensive flair back, hanging onto the puck, making plays,” said Steel on what he’s working on in San Diego. “Just playing more minutes. If I get the chance to go back up (to Anaheim), which I hope so, I can contribute more offensively and bring to the table what I’ve done throughout my career.”
What he’s done at every level is produce points and make plays. He’s starting to find the blend of both worlds in his professional game that will continue to translate to his continued success in the organization.