Every athlete has a story to tell but no hockey player in the 15-year history of the Idaho Steelheads has one like Ben Ondrus.
The 210-pound Canadian forward made his pro debut with the Steelheads in 2003. Since then, hes played more than 500 games in the American Hockey League and more than 50 in the NHL.
Now hes back with the Steelheads, who open their season Friday against the Utah Grizzlies (7:10 p.m., CenturyLink Arena).
Hes played in the NHL and he was in Germany last year, so hes had quite the journey as a hockey player, said Gord Baldwin, the other veteran on Idahos opening-day roster. A lot of people arent fortunate enough to get to that point. So its great for fans, and as a teammate, to have him here.
Steelheads fans can thank Ondrus family in part for his return. The 30-year-old is married with two children, a 2-year-old son and an 8-month old daughter.
After playing a season in Germany, he wanted to return to the United States and play where his family would be comfortable.
When I was here it seemed like everyone really liked it, and it was really adjustable to have a family here, Ondrus said.
AHL teams are allowed to carry only five veteran players, and with an NHL lockout in progress, those spots are hard to land. So Ondrus reached out to first-year Idaho coach Brad Ralph.
Ben is widely respected, and his pedigree is top-notch, Ralph said. So, for me, coming in here I knew we were going to have a young team, and I thought a player like Ben could give us that leadership and that character to mold what were trying to do. Hes certainly done everything Ive asked and more.
Doing a little bit of everything would be a good way to describe Ondrus as a player.
In his 52 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL, he never tallied a goal, but did notch two assists and was involved in 10 fights. He has 75 goals and 98 assists as a professional player.
But statistics probably arent the best way to measure Ondrus value to a team. More telling is the fact that hes been named captain on four AHL teams, and will serve as Idahos captain this season.
You just respect the way he plays, said Baldwin, who played against Ondrus for four seasons. Hes a leader and a captain.
Baldwin said some of the younger players might not know of Ondrus experience.
But if they dont theyll learn right away, Baldwin said. When you see him around the room, he has a presence. He keeps people accountable.
Ondrus watched several of his teammates in the NHL handle themselves the same way.
Obviously, theyre doing something right in their practice habits and their off-ice habits, and Ive tried to incorporate that into how I live my life, he said. Im hoping I can pass some of that along. Any advice is good advice to me.
Ondrus will be skating alongside some players who are almost 10 years younger. He turned 30 in June, but doesnt think hes lost a step. And if he has lost half a step, he figures his experience can more than make up for it.
After playing in the NHL, you realize its not necessarily about player movement, its about puck movement, he said. When everybodys playing their positions it makes it easier on everybody.
Ondrus said he thinks the Boise area will be a good fit for his family, but he refuses to become complacent as a player.
It would be nice to be in one spot, but if theres an opportunity to play at a higher level, thats what you always want as a player, he said. You never know, but I dont think its good to be comfortable where you are, even at my age. Youre always looking to get to that next level, and if it happens, it happens.
And if it doesnt, well hes picked a spot to play where he and his family can be comfortable.
Thats exactly how I look at it, he said.
Baldwin said its a win-win for Ondrus and Treasure Valley hockey fans.
Ten years later, they get a peek at how hes evolved over the years, he said. Thats pretty cool that you can start your career here, and you always have fond memories of where you first played.
Now hes back, and Im sure hes happy.
Chris Langrill: 377-6424