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Seniors Ryan Heltion, left, and Adam Steranko pose for a portrait in Bird Arena on February 22, 2017. Heltion and Steranko both walked on to the hockey team as freshman in 2013, and have be inseparable since. (ALEX DRIEHAUS / DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY)

Hockey: Walk-ons prepare to walk off

When the Bobcats take the ice, Ryan Heltion and Adam Steranko take their positions off the ice.

Heltion sits on the bench in his goaltending equipment, with a green baseball cap. The Bobcat logo faces forward. Steranko is often dressed in black — a crisp suit — sitting on the opposite side of the home bench, along with the other inactive players.

The two seniors, although on opposite sides of Bird Arena ice during games, have been nearly inseparable the last four years.

***

Heltion and Steranko both walked on as freshmen in 2013, unsure if they would make the team.

After both secured roster spots, a lifelong friendship was born on and off the ice. Both lived in the same area of campus, West Green.

When it came time for them to choose roommates for their sophomore year, it was an easy choice. After spending countless hours in Bromley Hall together, the two decided to continue their living arrangement in apartments for the rest of their time in Athens.

“You want to live with those guys (you’re most comfortable with),” Steranko, who is from Houston, said. “When you go home, that’s the time when you want to relax and unwind the most so you want to be with the guys you’re most alike with.”

How can they put up with each other every day on and off the ice? That’s simple.

It took time for Steranko, a forward, to be comfortable living with Heltion. After all, Heltion is a goaltender, a position that’s known for exuberant personalities.

“There’s always curve balls being thrown, but you just kinda roll with the punches,” Steranko said, laughing. “You prepare to see some weird stuff.”

Of course, with Heltion being so "weird" and Steranko putting up with it, there came a point in the friendship where they began to push each other’s buttons.

Getting under each other’s skin — a skill they both have perfected — has become a staple in their Palmer Place residence.

They know where the line is and not to cross it. But that doesn’t mean they won’t take it right to the edge.

“It’s almost like living with a brother,” Heltion said.

***

While both were uncertain about their hockey-playing future, one aspect was never in question: their work ethic.

Once they made the roster, nothing changed.

Although they were on the team, they were walk-ons. They had everything to prove, not only to the coaches, but also to their recruited teammates.

They needed to show that they deserved to be on the team just as much as those who received numerous phone calls from coaches and took recruiting trips to Athens.

Walking on comes with that attitude.

Steranko’s work ethic stems from an anti-lazy mindset he’s always carried, not wanting to be known as a guy who is “just there,” but as a hard worker who is always willing to push himself.

Heltion’s work ethic, on the other hand, is personal.

He grew up in Pittsburgh, a hockey-obsessed city, surrounded by talented players for his entire hockey career.

Standing at just 5-foot-10, Heltion has never been the biggest guy on the ice. He said he’s never been the best goaltender in his area, either. When he would make a team in Pittsburgh, there were two options: work hard or sit the bench.

When he decided to walk on at Ohio, it was just second nature for him to be undersized and have to work for everything. He was used to it.

One phrase that has helped Heltion, and continues to help him as his senior season winds down, is an old cliché: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Heltion and Steranko's work ethics are at a high level, but work ethic doesn’t always translate to playing time.

Being senior walk-ons and not seeing the ice hasn’t been easy for the two, but they continue to show up to Bird Arena every day for practice, ready to work.

Their coach, Sean Hogan, watches and appreciates.

When running a successful hockey program, Hogan must recruit at a high level and bring in top talent each season, which has resulted in Heltion and Steranko slipping down the depth chart over time as Hogan has introduced new players.

It’s not easy to see freshmen and sophomores play immediately when they arrive on campus, but Heltion and Steranko have stayed positive.

That positive attitude has given Steranko an opportunity to be one of the leaders for the Bobcats.

“The boys love him,” Hogan said.

Steranko knows his role on the team as a senior and has perfected it.

That role entails showing up to practice, making teammates better, being there for teammates and giving them somebody to look up to.

“(For the younger guys) to have someone there who has been through that process for the younger guys coming up, it definitely helps,” Steranko said.

Oh, and there is one other task.

When Heltion and Steranko’s numbers are called, they do the best to make the most of their opportunities.

Heltion has played in four games this season and has allowed four goals.

Steranko has appeared in eight games this season, with two goals and two assists.

***

Now seniors, they hope to be part of something special at Ohio: a national championship team.

As a child, Heltion made it a goal to play college hockey — NCAA or club — and he’s made it that far. Now, all that’s left to do in his playing time is win.

“Being able to win a national championship, whether I was recruited or as a walk-on, would be one of the best days of my life,” he said.

While talking about a national championship can be fun, they both understand the end of their hockey careers is near. But not only is hockey coming to a close, the end of college is fast approaching.

The two will go their separate ways in life, not living with each other like they have over the past three years, not spending every day together.

“We’ve been there through (a lot),” Heltion said. “So it’ll be kind of weird not living with (Adam). It’s been an old steady.”

@spencerholbrook

sh690914@ohio.edu

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