Cal U hockey has an alumni game each year. The event brings together members of both the men’s and women’s hockey teams from years past for a fun game. This year, for 2012 alum Steve Oberly and 2016 alumna Kelsey DeNardo, the game had extra special significance: the site of their engagement.
Steve and Kelsey met through Cal U Hockey, so it is only fitting that such a significant step of their relationship would take place before this game. When Kelsey was a freshman on the women’s club team, Steve was a graduate assistant within Campus Recreation and worked with the hockey teams. He played for the team from 2010-2012 and was working on his Master’s in Sports Management while working for his alma mater.
The two dated on-and-off for a year or two, and then re-connected after Steve finished his Master’s and no longer worked at the school. He came back for the annual alumni game, which Kelsey was helping at while still a member of the team. In the meantime, Kelsey got her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood and Special Education and eventually a Master’s in Applied Behavioral Analysis, while Steve worked on his Doctoral Degree in Health and Human Performance. Today, almost six years after originally meeting, they are happily engaged.
“I walked into training camp on my first day and there was this guy there, and I didn’t think it would turn into anything like this, but here we are almost six years later, and I can’t believe it has turned into this,” Kelsey recalled. “Overall, Cal U and hockey in general have given me lifelong friends and has taught me so much and has helped me grow up. At the end of the day, I found what I like to call my forever teammate.”
Hockey was a big part of both of their upbringings. Kelsey grew up in Moon, playing local youth hockey and then eventually high school hockey for Bishop Canevin and for the Steel City Selects. Steve grew up playing hockey in the Mon Valley Youth organization, and then played high school hockey at Ringgold for his senior year. The hockey upbringing was very significant, and one that Kelsey savors when she looks back at her youth.
“It’s crazy to think that a sport is what brought us together,” she said. “Had I never started playing, had I never had my neighbor show up at my door with a pair of skates and say, ‘you’re playing hockey with my daughter,’ I might not have met this person. I think the hockey community in general in Pittsburgh has that unique way of bringing people together.”
To this day, hockey remains a big part of their relationship. Along with playing hockey, they both enjoy following along with the Penguins, NHL, and everything else in the local hockey scene.
“We go to Penguins games, we watch Penguins avidly, and we love the NHL as a whole and just hockey in general,” Kelsey explained. “That extra bond in our relationship is something special that we share. We can go on the ice and skate together and have that little bit of competitiveness with each other, and I think that’s kind of cool.”
Once they reached the point in their relationship where they knew they wanted to spend their lives together, Steve began to think about how he wanted to propose. Given the meaning of the event, he obviously wanted it to be special. He also admits that his personality contributed to what ended up being a very extravagant proposal.
“I always like to do things big. I’m a romantic kind of individual, and I like to do that kind of stuff,” Steve shared. “I was thinking, ‘what really sums up our relationship, and how can I incorporate us into this proposal?'”
Well the obvious answer, one they had mentioned in conversation in the past, was for Steve to propose at the annual Cal U Hockey Alumni game. This was something that obviously was a big part of their relationship. Given his desire to do things big, he developed an extraordinary vision for how to make the event perfect. In order to have everything work out as he envisioned, it took some extensive planning.
Steve worked with Jamison Roth, the director of Recreational Services at Cal U who coordinates the club sports teams to make it happen at the game. He also worked with the alumni of the team, two photographers, and both families to make sure it all went perfectly. Steve had the photographers taking pictures of other alumni and the families hidden in Murph’s Pub overlooking the rink until the big moment to ensure nothing was tipped off for Kelsey.
All of the hard work paid off, as the proposal didn’t just meet his original expectations, it exceeded them.
“It was all that (I hoped) and more, it was incredible,” he said. “From my perspective, it was more than I could have imagined. It was one of those moments where when I was doing it, I had no spacial awareness, I had no idea what people were saying – whether people were tapping their sticks on the ice. It was one of those moments where I just focused on her, and nothing else mattered.”
For Kelsey, the fact that her engagement occurred on the ice has extra special meaning – one that traces back to her early childhood. Unlike today, as the girl’s youth hockey scene is booming in Pittsburgh, it was not that popular when she started. However, her willingness to play at the early age and continuation of it led not only led to lifelong friendships and memories, it led her to her future husband, something she is very thankful for.
“From my perspective, it was really cool because within the area of Pittsburgh, I think at my age, when I was starting to play ice hockey at like eight years old, that was kind of when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were coming to Pittsburgh and hockey was growing. But there aren’t many girls in the Pittsburgh area that are 25 or 26 that played hockey growing up,” she explained.
“So I think the fact that my passion of hockey and Steven’s passion of hockey, that’s how we met and that’s how we got engaged and what brought us together. I think that’s just a unique and special experience for me to be able to look at. I look at the pictures all the time and it’s just such a shared interest. A couple times a week we watch games together, we get to go skate together still. That’s not going to stop, and that’s something that is a life-long love for both of us that we can pass down to our future children.”
Their wedding is planned for the fall of 2020. While that is still a few years down the road, and obviously all of their plans are not concrete yet, they do know a few things. Eventually they want to have children, and they definitely want to engrain hockey in their lives.
“We both have talked extensively that we want to keep that tradition of hockey going in our family,” Kelsey shared. “Since we can both play, and both be on the ice, we can coach our children.”
Steve echoed his fiancé’s opinion on the role of hockey in their future children’s lives.
“Hockey has become a value in the way we conduct ourselves,” Steve added. “We’ve learned so much from the game, from both ends (on and off the ice). We’ve made friends and connections along the way, and it’s kind of embedded in the fibers of who we are. Hopefully one day we can kind of convey these same values with our kids through this same sport.”