Spitfires retire Ott's No. 14; no decision from
Brodeur; Blues back to work; Hitch on Deflategate
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Even though many of his teammates chose warmer temperatures with plenty of sun and fun, veteran Blues winger Steve Ott had a better offer.
Ott had to bring along a winter coat, perhaps some gloves and a sock hat or two, but a chance to go back in time was too good to pass up.
The 32-year-old Ott was on hand Sunday night having his No. 14 retired by the Windsor Spitfires, the junior team in the Ontario Hockey League in which Ott played for from 1999-2002.
Ott received a call from Spitfires owner/head coach Bob Boughner, who played 12 seasons in the NHL for six teams (Buffalo, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Calgary, Carolina and Colorado), about the possibility of doing it over the NHL All-Star break.
There was no hesitation.
"(Boughner) called and filled me in on what they were going to do and asked if I had any All-Star break plans," Ott said. "I said I would be more than honored let alone humbled to have that opportunity."
Ott, who had 116 goals and 121 assists in 174 career regular seasons games, and New Jersey Devils winger Adam Henrique, who also had his number retired, took part in a ceremony at the WFCU Centre.
"It was really neat," said Ott, who had 50 goals, 87 points and was a plus-40 during the 2000-01 season. "They were a first-class organization when I played for them, let alone after two Memorial Cups. The presentation that they put on for my family and my friends, let alone the fans in attendance, it was a really special night for us. It's an individual accomplishment, but to be honest with you, it was more of an accomplishment for all the people that helped me up to that point and I'm just very thankful for that opportunity back then."
Before being drafted in 1999, Ott made a call to then-general manager Mike Kelly, with a nudge from Ott's father Butch. It turned out to be the best call he made.
The Spitfires, who had Ott on their draft board but not high, took Ott in the second round after he blew them away with a phone call.
"The people that really had a big influence on the situation back then, kind of turning me into from a junior player into a player for that next level, at the time, you don't realize how thankful you are," Ott said. "You just kind of swing by it and 15 years later, you're looking at your junior career and years after.
"It's completely unexpected in the sense of that if you ask all of us about junior hockey, we all absolutely loved it."
Ott has gone on to a successful NHL career. He was a first-round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2000 and has since played for Buffalo and the Blues.
"Obviously that banner's going to be hanging there forever," Ott said of his No. 14. "Knowing how big and proud kind of community we have back home, it's special because going back there and bringing my kids or my cousins, nephews and they get to look up at that, it's really humbling."
Ott, who has a summer home in Windsor, said his Spitfires teams made it as far as the Western Conference Final. It was his only regret of not winning a Memorial Cup, but ...
"It's the highlight of my career to this point. Hopefully one day, I can bring a Stanley Cup back to that town as well," Ott said.
* Clock ticking on Brodeur -- The news post All-Star break on goalie Martin Brodeur is ... status quo.
At least for the time being.
Brodeur, who took a leave of absence to decide his future, still hasn't decided if he wants to return to the team as the No. 3 goalie, retire and take a position in the Blues' front office or with another organization (likely the New Jersey Devils), or if he wants to give it a go with another team.
The 42-year-old Brodeur, who went 3-3-0 with a 2.87 goals-against average and .899 save percentage with one shutout, gave the Blues what they needed while All-Star goalie Brian Elliott recovered from a knee sprain.
The Blues, specifically general manager Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock, wait for the decision, which the team would like to know prior to starting up play again.
"I don't know. To kind of be honest with you, I'm out of the loop," Hitchcock said when asked about it. "Doug said if when and if Marty makes a decision, he's going to let me know. To show how far out of the loop I am, I'm Marty's neighbor and I don't even know what's going on. I'm not exactly sure what's going on there and Doug said I'm on a need-to-know basis. He's not here, and we wish that he was here, but I'm sure that he's got some career-decisions that he's trying to balance.
"No it's nothing to do with us. It's 100 percent on Marty. Marty wanted time off to think about things so we felt as an organization, he came in and helped us at a real delicate, critical time. We owe him that, so we said, 'Sure, take your time. It's a big decision. Whatever you want to do, go ahead and do.'"
Brodeur's teammates continue to support whatever decision he makes.
"Whatever happens with that, hopefully there's some decisions that make us a better team," captain David Backes said. "I don't know what that is, but that's a management and coaching staff decision. As far as having him in the locker room and practice every day, he sets a great example at 42 for having accomplished really everything there is to accomplish in the sport."
* Back to work -- After six days to allow the physical and mental state of mind unwind and get away from hockey during the All-Star break, the Blues were back at work Monday afternoon at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall for practice in preparation for the final 36 games.
The Blues (29-13-4), who ended the break on a 7-0-1 run and playing their best hockey of the season, will kick off their second-half schedule with the last of a seven-game homestand against the Nashville Predators in the first of what will be nine games in 15 days.
Having Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to practice while most of the league gets underway Tuesday could prove to be beneficial.
"Like I said to the players, we're the team with time," Hitchcock said. "We've got to take advantage of the time we've got because there's 22 teams playing (Tuesday), I think we're maybe one of two or three teams that are not playing in the first two days, so this is our quality practice time. When we start up, we play nine in 15 nights. We are going to have to really get on the floorboard with the pedal right away because we're going to be behind everybody in games and playing catch-up a little bit. These quality practices that we're going to have to get in are important and I thought we had great focus today.
"The break was good. The coach got away from the players, players got away from the coach so it all worked out. We'll get a full load tomorrow. We were missing the three all-stars (Elliott, Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko). They didn't have to skate today, so they'll get the full load. Everybody's healthy. We went easy on 'Osh' today. We just put him out for the first session to make sure that he's 100 percent to practice and play at the same time. "
The Blues split practice up in two sessions. The first included T.J. Oshie, who practiced for the first time since injuring himself blocking a shot Jan. 13 against Edmonton. Oshie hasn't missed a game but has skipped the practice sessions.
"We had really good energy," Hitchcock said. "We had good focus and I would say we lasted 40 minutes, which wasn't bad. We didn't get to 60. We scaled the second phase of practice back because we felt like with the tempo that we were going at, we were seeing the effects of having too much sand in between our toes instead of in our socks. We got 40 minutes, so definitely tomorrow, we hope to get the full 50."
Nevertheless, the break came at a good time for the players to refresh and get re-energized even though the train was rolling at high speed before the break.
"We got that break, I think we used it well," Backes said. "We came back today, snapped it around and tried to get that sharpness back to our game. It's not going to be there today, hopefully it will be a little better tomorrow and even better Wednesday and hopefully have a full effect on Thursday.
"It was a chance to recoup and re-energize, but now it's getting back into that sort of mindset of how hard it is to win, how hard it is to play the right way and the sacrifice it takes to win games. That's our next focus and getting that sharpness back in our game. That's why we had two sessions today."
The Blues open with the Predators, then fly East to play Carolina on Friday and at Washington on Sunday afternoon, so it will be like playing three games in three and a half days.
"This is really detailed stuff. Today we put a lot of checking detail in at the end of practice," Hitchcock said. "Tomorrow, three of the first four drills are nothing but details. They're either offensive or checking details that need to be part of our game when we get running. Like I said to the players, man this is an opportunity that you just can't pass up because we get three quality practices with good health and good energy. We ought to take advantage of it, so one day in the books; we did a good job. Tomorrow will even be better from an execution standpoint, and if they keep the energy up and increase the execution, then we're starting to move forward on the things we need to get better at.
"This is really the dialed-up phase. This is the phase where everybody can see light at the end of the tunnel, there's a real race going to happen now. You're going to have two races going on. You're going to have this race that is for the top spot, and you're going to have this race to get into the playoffs. You're going to be looking at a lot of individual playoff games. We've got to be ready for it."
Hitchcock was pleased with the team game prior to the break and would love nothing more than to see the players recapture it.
"Good play before the break came from great focus, great energy and I think really strong leadership," he said. "We expect that to stay the same, but I think you can't dismiss great leadership and great focus. They go hand in hand. I thought we were focused because what we demanded of each other. This came 95 percent from the playoffs. They wouldn't let anybody get too far ahead, they wouldn't let themselves get too far ahead and it led to good play. I thought at the end of the break, we were one of the most focused teams in the league and we want that to be our starting point when we come back."
* Deflategate spills onto ice -- With the subject of the New England Patriots and deflating footballs is on everyone's minds and all over the news, one local reporter decided to gauge Hitchcock's opinion on the matter.
Before the question was asked, Hitchcock was ready: "Please tell me you're not going to talk about deflatable footballs," he joked.
But Hitchcock was indeed talkative about the subject and was asked if anything of sort has happened in hockey.
"I was talking to people about that. Yeah, worse ... way worse," said Hitchcock, talking about his coaching days in junior and midget hockey. "Competitive advantage was the norm ... every day. And there was no strong guidelines set, so you did whatever you could do to gain a competitive advantage. If that meant finding another place in gas for somebody's bus, or painting a locker room or putting sand on the bench or turning up the heat in the locker room that happened to go from 60 to 90, you did whatever you could. The rules needed to get changed because quite frankly, it was getting out of control. So whatever's going on with these inflatable footballs is nothing compared to what I saw and witnessed. I was a perimeter participant on it at times."
Hitchcock thinks the whole matter in the NFL is a big deal but overblown.
"It is, but it was 45-7. Like, come on," he said. "I don't care if you're throwing a frisbee, it's 45-7 and that's a helluva football team with a helluva coach and a helluva quarterback. You've got to give them that.
"If they're thinking in that way, then that might be illegal but that's pretty sharp. But I don't know if you can think that far ahead. For us in the competitive environment and witnessing what's going on, I think you've got to follow the rules and the rules are a lot more strict than they used to be. But you can't dismiss the fact that it was 45-7."