Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ott retires, joins Blues as assistant coach

Forward played in NHL for 14 seasons, including 
three in St. Louis; he joins Sydor on Yeo's coaching staff

ST. LOUIS -- In a bit of a surprise move to those on the outside but not so much to him, Steve Ott called it quits on a 14-year NHL career on Thursday to join the Blues as an assistant coach to Mike Yeo's staff.

Ott, who played for the Blues from late in the 2013-14 season through the 2015-16 season, signed a three-year contract.

Ott, 34, signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings on July 1 last year after leaving the Blues as a free agent and had seven points (three goals, four assists) in 53 games with the Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens this season. He had no points in six Stanley Cup Playoff games. His final game was the Canadiens' 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round on April 22.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Steve Ott (9) and Alex Pietrangelo will join forces again after Ott retired
from the NHL Thursday and joined the Blues as an assistant coach.

Ott had 288 points (109 goals, 179 assists) and 1,555 penalty minutes in 848 NHL games in 14 seasons with the Canadiens, Red Wings, Blues, Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars. He was selected by the Stars in the first round (No. 25) of the 2000 NHL Draft.

"To be honest with you, it wasn't as tough as probably most (players)," Ott said. "I'm real proud of my career, and I know it's time. I feel like at this situation in my career I've kind of been prepping for for the last few years to say the least and kind of mentoring players. When you do so and you work so closely with some of the coaches I've had before, it was a role for me that's been building. Now it all kind of comes together, obviously it's going to feel a lot better on my body going forward, but mind and work ethic, I'm totally excited to put the work in with the staff we have."

Ott joins Darryl Sydor, who was hired on Wednesday, on a coaching staff that did not bring back Rick Wilson, Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas and goalie development coach Ty Conklin. Assistant general manager Martin Brodeur is leading the search for a goalie coach.

"Everything that I've heard about Steve through the course of the season, even after the season was what a great leader he was, what a great teammate he was, how he helped the rest of the group and hearing the same things about him and his time in Detroit and hearing the same things about him in his time in Montreal" Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "When you're trying to fill a coaching position, the No. 1 quality you're looking for is leadership and he fills that in a great way."

Ott began conversations with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong last week about the coaching position and it all came together quickly but the two have spoken a few times to gauge where Ott's playing days were.

"Me and 'Army' have talked a few times seeing where I'm at in my career and kind of going forward. We talked there last week and started to feel what's the next best situation. Quite frankly, I told him it was time. And talking with my family and other people that are influential in my career as ex-coaches, ex-teammates and players that have kind of done both sides of this. 

"With the knowing of St. Louis and what I feel about the organization, the opportunity to grow and learn under Mike Yeo I think is a big thing for me as well and my next step in my career."

Ott admits he doesn't know Yeo all that well, but the two got the chance to sit down recently in a get-to-know meeting.

"I don't know Mike that well. We've had some great chats, and I've respected his career and what he's done firsthand of winning a (Stanley) Cup to his playing days to assistant coach and earning to becoming a head coach," Ott said. "Being able to meet him lately and being able to talk to him face to face, the respect I have for him obviously is very high. He's a great man and when you have to work with a great man every single day and to have an opportunity to learn, you want a guy like that."

Yeo and Ott spoke on the phone initially, then got together and sat down for a conversation and hit it off immediately. 

"There's certain qualities that you need to be a good coach," Yeo said. "You don't want to just pick up and have a job. You have to be prepared for the commitment that's required and he is certainly very eager to take part in that. He really wants to start this next chapter in his life and I think he's got an awful lot of potential."

Ott didn't define what his specific role will be, and Yeo said if was too soon for that.

"I'm going to have a lot of duties in the sense of some of the things might be secondhand, some stuff might be hands-on," Ott said. "Being able to know all the guys in that dressing room and I've played with almost every single guy in that room and knowing them firsthand, I think the players are know the type of person I am and the mutual respect will be there from the get-go. It'll be a hands-on experience."

Yeo remembers coaching against Ott when the Blues and Minnesota Wild played in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015 and offered what many feel about Ott:

"The thing you learn about coaching and playing and being a competitor is people you generally hate the most are the ones you end up having the most respect for," Yeo said. "If you're completely OK with somebody on the other side, then that's not a very good sign for them."

One thing is for sure: Ott will replace what the Blues were missing when Kirk Muller left to become associate coach in Montreal. Muller was a highly respected coach among all players, and Ott was a highly respected veteran presence as a player here within the locker room walls that should see no problem translating to the coaching ranks.

Ott was a teammate with 20 of the 23 players that finished on the roster this season.

"When you're a role player for most of your career, I think I rely on structure in my game, so it's been something for a lot of years that I've wanted to do," Ott said. "Since I got into the league, I thought, 'One day, I can't wait to become a coach and help my players and help my teammates.' As a player, I always took that same attitude to get the most out of players or help young guys out on the bench or different situations. I really loved being able to do that.

"My leadership obviously starts with work ethic and that's exactly what I'm going to bring to my coaching as well. I think the guys know what type of respect I have for them but also the mutual respect that comes back."

When Ott did leave St. Louis after helping the Blues advance to the Western Conference Final in 2016 for the first time in 15 years, he got the chance to return to the Red Wings and play close to home where he played for the Windsor Spitfires before getting traded to the Canadiens for a late playoff push.

But it was certainly time to hang the blades up.

"I think it's been building over time to say the least," Ott said of retirement. "As a hockey player, you think you can play for the rest of your life. That's what your heart tells you, but my mind and body and family know it's time. To have this opportunity back in St. Louis where we absolutely loved the organization, the people that are involved with the organization from the ownership down to Doug Armstrong. You know how special it was to me and my family firsthand. Now to be able to work back in the organization and hopefully add an element I think I can bring to the coaching staff ... we all want that same goal. We want a chance to win. I never got to do it as a player, but I'd be sure proud to do it as a coach with a group and team I know we have there as well.

"Those things are always really hard (leaving St. Louis). For three years, you have great friends and family from the ownership down to the players and you called it home for all those years. It's always tough to leave home, but when you have an opportunity to go back home, it's always fun and knowing the familiarity with the organization, that's a huge determining factor going forward and being able to grow and learn in a great atmosphere and a great situation."

The Blues still need one assistant coach slot to be filled, and Chicago Wolves coach Craig Berube's name continues to pop up as a potential landing spot here.

Armstrong said recently he'd like to have the coaching staff in place by the NHL Draft, which will commence June 23-24 in Chicago.

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