Photo credit: MJoy Photography
Sammy Steele’s hometown of Hummelstown, Pennsylvania may not ring any bells to casual hockey fans. The Hershey Bears, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Washington Capitals, may sound a little more familiar, however. Hershey is less than a 10-minute drive from Hummelstown, which allowed Steele to have an early outlet to discover the game.
“I’ve been a season ticket holder since I was young with the Bears,” Steele said. “[Hummesltown] is a small town, but lots of people go to the Bears games so I’d say it’s a hockey town.”
In the beginning, Steele found himself enjoying roller hockey more than ice hockey, not playing on ice full time until he was around eight years old.
As he got older, the lack of high-level rep teams in the immediate area of Hummelstown forced Steele to drive for hours each weekend, for years, to be able to get the practice and game action each weekend to he needed to grow.
“I’ve had to commute to my teams ever since I was about 11,” the 18-year-old Steele said. “I played on a team in Richmond, Virginia, which is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive, and I played on that team for four years. Then I played in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton which was an hour and 45 minutes away and finally for a team in New York which was another three hours away.”
Safe to say, there’s no lack of passion for Steele when it comes to improving his game. He was quick to thank his dad who did the majority of the driving each weekend for all those years.
The next step in his development was to make the jump to junior hockey. This time there would be no commuting, as he landed with the Fargo Force of the USHL, over 19 hours from his hometown.
“I think the change was a little more than what I was expecting,” Steele admitted. “I was a young guy and I had to get used to all the older players. The pace of the game was a whole lot different. I was scratched for the first 10 or 15 games and then finally got a chance to play. Once I got in there I got set on a line that I stayed with throughout the whole year.
Steele played in 46 of the Force’s 60 games last season scoring 11 goals and 13 assists. When the playoffs came around, the Force sat third in the Western Conference, but were just three and two points behind the top two seeds respectively.
The Force cruised through the Clark Cup playoffs, finishing with a record of 11-3 to capture Fargo’s first ever USHL title.
“We knew we were good all season and we had a bit of a target on our back heading into the playoffs,” Steele said. “When we won everyone on the ice was just saying ‘we finally did it’ because it was such a long year.”
Steele was prepared to return to Fargo for the 2018-19 season, but two days into a camp of theirs he was traded to the Madison Capitols. After attending a Capitols camp, Steele says he received word of another team that was interested in him.
“My college coach got a call from Fred and they helped set up a visit for me to come to Penticton,” Steele said. “It was unbelievable when I got there. The way they treated me, I just felt like I was a priority. I had a lot of questions about the league when I got there because as an East Coast kid we’re taught more about the OHL and the USHL.”
After a strong intro to junior hockey with a league championship, and an NCAA scholarship to Arizona State University already under his belt, Steele hopes to be an impact player during his time with the Vees, both on and off the ice.
“Being a leader is something I’d like to do,” he said. “If the team is struggling I want to be one of the guys who helps get us going. When it comes to my personal game I want to be able to help the team by putting up a lot of points.”
Now that he’s got a taste for winning, Steele wants to be a part of another championship run.
“I think it almost makes me more motivated to win another championship,” he said. “I know what it takes to get that far and know that it’s worth it in the end you put all that work in over the course of the season. I think I can talk to all the guys about what it takes and help get the message through.”
The rest of Steele’s teammates surely feel the same levels of motivation to bring a championship back to Penticton.