Daniel Steiner started playing hockey at the late age of eight years old in Switzerland and was always told he was already too old and was never going to make it. Growing up it was a dream to play hockey in North America. He always wanted to compete and to play in the best league in the world, he’s getting that chance this year.
“I never played in the World Junior Championships and never got drafted which is tough but I have to prove them wrong every time,” he said. Being told he was too small, started too late, and didn’t fit the mold has built Steiner some character. “That’s what built who I am and I don’t mind it. You can use it in every situation of life and that makes it my way. I’m 29 and in pretty good shape so why not.”
He always had a dream to play in North America. Playing hockey in the best league in the world is on always on the mind when you’re a kid playing hockey. At the age of 29 he decided it was time to live the dream. He did not want to worry about any regrets when his hockey career is over and he reflects back. Over the summer he canceled his contract in the Swiss-A league in Switzerland where he has played for the past 10 years. He sold his car, he sold his home, and has been living with his bags packed ever since.
His favorite NHL team was the Detroit Red Wings and watching Steve Yzerman. The only NHL jersey he has owned in life did not belong to the Red Wings though. A jersey was given to him as a present and that jersey happened to be a Florida Panthers jersey. Fast forward later in life and he’s getting his chance at professional hockey with the Rochester Americans, the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers.
“You have a good life in Switzerland,” Steiner said. “You have a good salary but I think there’s more than that. In a couple of years I can always go back and play a couple more years there,” he said.
For the past 10 years Steiner has been playing in the Swiss-A league in Switzerland. The league is comparable to the American Hockey League in terms of the level of play. One of the biggest differences though is the size of the ice surface, which also plays a role in the way the game is played. Steiner said that it was an adjustment at first because it’s harder to play in North America with the smaller ice surfaces.
“Playing here the other guy is always in your face, it makes play much more physical. You have to learn to chip it out. You have to start and stop instead of taking big circles,” he said describing playing here. “It’s two different sports (compared to Swiss-A). I know both now so I think it’s good experience to have both in my repertoire.”
“I was always a guy who was a little over competitive, over ambitious,” he said. “I work hard which is why I had a tryout with the Columbus Blue Jackets and I said to myself that I have to try it no matter what.”
The opportunity was great but it didn’t go beyond training camp. He didn’t even get the opportunity to play in a pre-season game. I’m sure the Syracuse Crunch would have taken him as a veteran player but Columbus said he was too old and sent him on his way.
After Columbus said he was free to go Steiner was not ready to quit and go back home. The next stop for him was with the Reading Royals in the ECHL who offered him a contract.
“The East Coast is an investment but its not where I want to be,” Steiner said.
He’s not saying anything bad about the ECHL, it’s just that he wants to play at higher levels. It’s like a player in the AHL saying they would rather be somewhere else. They want to be in the NHL. Anyone who follows minor league hockey has seen examples of players “pouting” when they’re playing somewhere they’d rather not be. The same can’t be said about Steiner. In 21 games with the Royals he tallied 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) and only 14 penalty minutes. If that’s where he ends up there’s no doubt he’ll continue being competitive and doing everything he can.
Steiner didn’t know when a phone call would come with an offer to play at a higher level so he contacted his agent about playing in the Spengler Cup tournament in Switzerland over the holidays. His goal was to go back there and take advantage of the tournament to play at that higher level and take part in some practices. Visiting friends and family was also on his mind. What he didn’t know was that two days after he agreed to play in the tournament that the Rochester Americans would call and offer him a chance in the American Hockey League.
In four games played with the Amerks leading up to today he has three goals and one assist. Benoit Groulx said after a game recently that Steiner was known as an offensive player and that he knew he could fit Steiner on one of the top lines and he’d find chemistry quick.
A lot of people start getting close to 30 years old and think it’s time to settle down. Most people in life fear giving up what they have to go after a dream. We’re afraid of failure so we remain comfortable with what we have. When I started talking to Steiner about what brought him to North America I had no idea it would be an inspiring story. His story has a different path than of Victor Oreskovich but one similarity is that both players have put everything they have into a dream. It’s paid off for Oreskovich who has played in the NHL with the Florida Panthers for most of the season, hopefully it will for Steiner as well.
In the AHL there is a limit to the amount of veteran players you can have playing in a game. The Amerks already have six so his long term future here is uncertain. He’ll get another chance to play on Friday night with Graham Mink sitting out due to an injury which leaves a veteran roster spot open.
“The whole reason (to come to N. America) was to have a good experience, to open up my mind, see another country, see another culture, see another world of hockey,” Steiner said. “I’m still dreaming I can go up there (the NHL) just for one game to wear that jersey. It’s definitely a big adventure and I love it so far.”
Even if things don’t work out in his favor he’ll be able to say he tried and will not have any regrets.
The Rochester Americans have three games at home this weekend. Friday night at 7:05pm vs the Grand Rapids Griffins. Saturday afternoon at 2pm vs the Lake Erie Monsters. Sunday at 5pm vs the Binghamton Senators. Don’t let the weather forecast keep you away, it’ll be some entertaining hockey!
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