Friday, August 29, 2014

Feeling healthy, Ott hopes to provide offensive punch

Off-season abdominal surgery has veteran feeling 
100 percent, determined after getting new contract with Blues

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- By his own admission, it's been quite the challenging year for Steve Ott.

A trade to the Blues from the last-place Buffalo Sabres last season near the NHL trade deadline although may have invoked some emotional feelings after having spent nearly two seasons as Sabres captain, invigorated the competitive juices again for the forward. Going from playing out the season to Stanley Cup aspirations can do that.

But a nagging abdominal injury progressively got worse for the 32-year-old Ott, and heading into a summer of unrestricted free agency, it was not the right time to mix surgery while marketing for a new contract.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Steve Ott (middle) moves the puck away from Dallas' Vern Fiddler (36) and
Brenden Dillon (4) in a game last season.

But Ott, who had three assists in 23 regular season games with the Blues and two assists in six playoff games, was one of the team's most consistent forwards during a six-game playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs according to coach Ken Hitchcock. He fought and played through an injury that hampered any potential offensive success.

"When that kind of half-goes, that last push-off really hurts you," Ott said Thursday at an informal team skate. "My biggest thing was shooting the puck. When I (would) bear down on a shot, the torquing ... the strength of a hockey player obviously is in the core, and that torquing movement was not right. It bothered me, but there's no excuses. I battled through it before. It's no different. 

"You play 82 games on the sheet, you play 82 games. Everybody in here ... if you don't have a bump or bruise, there's something wrong with you or you're not playing the right way."

But Ott stood through the times of the challenge and now is reaping the rewards of patience and perseverance. The injury, which is something that has been bothersome in the past, was corrected with surgery. Initially not part of the Blues' plans moving forward in the off-season, Ott signed a two-year, $5.2 million contract in light of Vladimir Sobotka's surprising departure to the KHL and Ott most recently found out that his wife of more than a year, Erika, is expecting the couple's first child, a son. Ott also has a seven-year-old daughter that will join big sister at the end of February.

"I'm very blessed to have a seven-year-old daughter. She's my world and now to have a son on the way, it's a complete different element," Ott said. "You just continue to wish to be on the right path in life. Things are really good away from the rink and it makes you real comfortable to just come to the rink, put your sweater on and be a part of the boys."

It's precisely what Ott has done. He came to St. Louis three weeks before the opening of training camp to take part in informal skates with other players, including veterans Barret Jackman, Alex Pietrangelo, T.J. Oshie, Jordan Leopold and other prospects.

"I've put in a real good summer with the trainer and training partner," Ott said. "That's all you can ask for is to prepare as well as you possibly can coming into camp. To say that I'm 100 percent would be an understatement in physicality, strength and (I feel) healed up.

"For me, I don't think you can put a price tag on being comfortable in your surroundings and in your area. I guess you can say when I got here (following the trade from Buffalo), you never want to step on anybody's toes. You don't want to feel like you didn't earn it yet because the team put a lot into last year and then you come in and it's a tough situation. For myself to come in, be comfortable with the boys already, get settled in my house, my living arrangements with my wife, all those things ... you can't put a price tag on feeling comfortable and heading into a season wanting to have success."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock called Ott "one of our better forwards in the playoffs." 

"Nobody had any idea how banged up he was," Hitchcock said of Ott. "For him to play the way he did in the playoffs, banged up like he was, was pretty impressive. So to me, he's healthy, he's not in the get-to-know-you stage. He came in with extra time early to hang with the guys and just get updated. So many things have happened positive. He's got a place to live, he's secure in that atmosphere, he's integrated with the players on the team now, he's comfortable with it. All the newness part of it is off. Now you get to see the real personnel. He's going to have a real impact in making our team higher from an accountability standpoint. That's his great attribute. He's a good player, but because he's so consistent in his play, he brings everybody else into that level."

Now feeling 100 percent, Ott feels like he can contribute some offensive numbers for a Blues team that relies on balance throughout the lineup. Ott, who had 41 goals in back to back seasons with the Dallas Stars (19 in 2008-09 and 22 in 2009-10), will battle for a third- or fourth-line center role on a team suddenly deep down the middle. But Ott's versatility can also see him get minutes on the wing, if necessary, and see him pop up and down the lineup.

Of his 103 career goals, 75 came from 2007-2012.

"I would probably be the most disappointed not to come in here and help contribute the way I know I can and should and expect out of myself," said Ott, who has 267 points in 696 regular season games. "That was probably the hardest thing, not being able to contribute the way I have my whole career. I expect that out of myself and that's why I challenged myself this summer to put in a good work ethic and everything else to be prepared for this chance again. I have no doubts in my game and where I'm at, where I stand so I'm ready to go.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
After off-season surgery to correct an abdominal injury, Steve
Ott feels 100 percent and in a good place with the Blues. 

"It's been a very productive summer. It was an easy decision for myself (to come back to St. Louis). Going through the process for myself was a little hard to handle at times, the whole unrestricted thing, but you know what, I couldn't be happier. That weekend, we flew down here to find residence. Everything's falling into place. Now, we have 20 days or so before camp even opens. Just get ready and feel comfortable and ready to go."

Getting Ott more involved offensively is a role Blues coaches won't hesitate with.

"He's sneaky offensively," Hitchcock said. "He surprises you with his ability to make plays and things like that. He complements other people. He does all the dirty work. Sometimes when you do all the dirty work, you get points one year and sometimes you don't, but as long as you're doing all the dirty work, if you're not getting the points, someone else is. He does all the dirty work so that it allows other people their space."

Ott said the goals for he and his Blues teammates remain the same. Changing and improving the results is the challenge that lies ahead.

"You have to put that work in," Ott said. "It's non-stop, continuing to grab confidence from the good points of last season, the strong points of last season. Those negatives have to turn to results. 

"It would be an understatement to say that we're not a Cup-contending team. That's where our mindset is. Anything else is failure to us. I think that's the mindset you open with when everybody shows up at Day 1 of camp to the end of the season. That's the one goal and only goal. When you have a team put together like the one we have and with the additions, that goal is reality."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Blues fans pack Ballpark Village for Ice Breaker event

Players overwhelmed as team unveils new uniforms, 
introduce Stastny to packed crowd at FOX Sports Midwest Live!

ST. LOUIS -- They were packed in like sardines on a sweltering day outside that grew by the second inside the confines of FOX Sports Midwest Live!

But for the 4,000-plus blue and gold-clad fans toting the Bluenote on jerseys, t-shirts, buttons, hats, earrings, socks, shoes and the like, Monday's Ice Breaker event to introduce the Blues' newest acquisition in Paul Stastny, plus the unveiling of the team's new jerseys was more than a rousing success.

Which poses the easiest question of all Blues fans all want to know: Is it October yet?
Blues players (from left to right) Paul Stastny, Barret Jackman, T.J. Oshie,
Alex Pietrangelo and David Backes sport the new uniforms the team
unveiled Monday night at Ballpark Village.

Despite the 100-degree heat that's engulfed St. Louis in the past week, Blues fans are already thinking winter months and the 2014-15 hockey season. FOX Sports Midwest Live! inside Ballpark Village overwhelmed and entertained and brought out multiple chants of "Let's Go Blues!" And when the main attractions took the stage, even they were awe-struck by what defenseman Barret Jackman called "a sea of blue and gold."

"It was a lot more than I expected," Jackman said. "I've been down here to check out Ballpark Village after a Cardinal game. To walk in here and see a sea of blue and gold, it's pretty special. You're still (weeks) away from training camp, but people are as excited now as they were in the playoffs last year.

"You come to an event like this, the adrenaline starts rushing and we look forward to getting on the ice and making it count."

Despite three straight disappointing and short postseason runs following impressive regular season runs, excitement continues to run rampant for the Blues and their fans. Management -- with ownership's blessing -- went out and signed Stastny, the biggest prize as far as free agents centers that were on the market. General manager Doug Armstrong also was able to bring in Jori Lehtera, the team's third round pick in 2008, as well as sign Joakim Lindstrom, former first round pick Peter Mueller and traded for puck-moving defenseman Carl Gunnarsson.

"I'm really excited about the fan anticipation this season," Armstrong said. "I'm the same way. I can't wait for the end of September and October to get on the ice. It's great to see the fans buying into the program and what we're trying to accomplish here. It makes us work that much harder trying to please them accomplish those goals we've reserved for the season.

"These are great hockey fans. We're excited to have Paul, we're excited to have all the returning players coming back. It's a difficult league to win in and all we want to do is give ourselves that opportunity and I think we have."

Blues radio voice Chris Kerber emceed the event and brought on original Blues Bobby Plager and Jimmy Roberts to kick things off after the Charles Glenn Band got everyone in a festive mood. Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock followed Plager and Roberts and perhaps arguably the greatest Blue of all time, Brett Hull, stepped on stage before today's crop of stars, which also included captain David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo, capped the evening.

"It was amazing how many people showed up and how many people they could fit in the space they have here," Oshie said. "Seeing every little video, you kind of get chills thinking about the season, thinking about the things we're capable of doing here."

Backes agreed.

"They were packed in there," he said of the fans. "I don't know if they could squeeze more in there. Great to see the turnout with the weather and how hot it was in that building, you can tell the passion the fans have. The guys on the team, I can tell you, are just as excited. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We're excited for it, we're re-energized after the summer. We're not satisfied with how (last) year ended. We've got another great opportunity lying ahead of us.

"I've done a lot of public appearances ... I don't know if I've seen one that energetic, that excited and that many people packed into a smaller area like that. It really shows that it's August 25th or whatever it is, but those people are as excited as anyone to get the season going and making sure that we're ready to play and they're ready to go to the rink and cheer us on."

As for the new uniforms? The Blues didn't change too much from last year's version. It's a more of a retro look from the 1980's and '90's. The biggest change came in the form of the team's colors presented in stripes across the shoulders, bottoms of sleeves and jerseys as well as socks.


"I think they look good. I didn't know exactly what they were going to go with, but me and 'Petro' put them on with full gear the other day and the socks were really cool," Oshie said. "With the socks, they look really sharp. 

"I was hoping they were going to go back to the baby blue ones (from the the 1970's and mid-'80's), but they look good when you're in full gear." 
A standing room-only crowd of 4,000-plus fans attended the Icebreaker
event for the Blues to unveil new uniforms and introduce Paul Stastny.

Oshie, however, is in the minority -- as in only one -- when it came to the opinions regarding uniforms of the mid-to-late 1990's.

"I wanted the red, but apparently, no one likes that red," Oshie said with a grin.

So when players report for training camp Sept. 17, Blues fans will be geared up for what should be another successful regular season run that they hope culminates into a deep playoff push. 

"It's been since (1967) ... do the math," Backes said. "That's 47 going on 48 years of people yearning and desiring for that big, silver trophy. 

"We've got a group of guys that that's a realistic expectation. Now we've got to go out there, do the work and win games and make sure we're playing deep in the playoffs." 

Ownership and management have fortified the goods. It's on the players to fulfill the goals.

"It shows how far they're willing to go and how bad they want to win," Oshie said of ownership's commitment. "They've done a pretty good job of getting the right guys in the locker room. As far as a playoff player goes, we want (No.) 26 (Stastny) in our corner."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Home sweet home

Blues bring Stastny, Butler back to grass roots with surprise visit to Chaminade 

ST. LOUIS -- The 800 or so Chaminade Preparatory High School students were asked to convene inside the Skip Viragh Center for what was supposed to be an the kickoff to the new school year Monday morning.

Little did the students know they would be getting some surprise visitors along the way.

A bit of a Blues flavor invaded the scene, with radio voice Chris Kerber first introducing general manager Doug Armstrong and coach Ken Hitchcock for a little question and answer session to help kick off the Blues' season.
Paul Stastny is all smiles after donning a Blues
jersey for the first time Monday morning at an
introduction at Stastny's alma mater, Chaminade
High School. 

But when the auditorium doors in the back opened, the students were treated to a familiar pair that once graced the halls of yesteryear.

Paul Stastny and Chris Butler made a surprise appearance and took part in the Q&A. They came onto the scene wearing Chaminade hockey jerseys before being presented with Blues third jerseys by Butler's father Doug.

"This is pretty special," said Butler, who signed a one-year, two-way contract and will battle for spot on the top eight spots on defense. "This is where Paul and I first met. I think it was playing summer hockey in junior high school. To come back to kind of where our friendship kind of started, now will be the third time that we've played together. It's neat and special to kind of take a journey that we have and to have a friend that's been there for a good majority of it be there along the way is pretty neat."

The 28-year-old Stastny, who came to the Blues as an unrestricted free agent from the Colorado Avalanche after signing a four-year, $28 million contract, was eight years old when he moved to St. Louis. His father Peter finished his Hall of Fame career with the Blues, playing here for two seasons from 1993-95. Paul's brother Yan, who also attended Chaminade, played for the Blues as well.

Butler, 27, who played previously for the Buffalo Sabres and most recently the Calgary Flames, hails from nearby Kirkwood, Mo. Both he and Stastny were teammates in high school, then in college at the University of Denver. They will be teammates for a third time.

"When you drive down Lindbergh (Blvd.) and pull in here, it just feels like home," said Stastny, who was recently married and attended the tribute charity function along with Peter and Yan in Slovakia for former Blue Pavol Demitra. "For four years, this is where I was constantly and it's just human nature to feel comfortable here.

"I actually came back (to Chaminade) about two weeks ago. We were looking at houses and I actually wanted to show my wife, just to show off the school compared to her high school. It's great memories."
Chaminade alums Paul Stastny (left) and Chris Butler (right) display the
high school jerseys Monday morning before the pair were introduced at a
surprise assembly at the high school.

Armstrong, Hitchcock, the elder Butler and both players talked about the influence of youth hockey in St. Louis and the strong presence of a Blues alumni group. Peter and Yan presented a video message for their son and brother, respectively, and Doug Butler talked about coaching his son. 

The resounding message was loud and clear for all who attended: dreams can start when one is young. Stastny and Butler were evidence to the entire student body.

"It's neat to be a role model and it's neat to kind of be that first wave of St. Louis kids that have gone on to play pro sports," said Butler, who along with the Stastnys, Ben Bishop and Neil Komadoski represent Chaminade alum to play in the NHL. "I remember watching (Golden State Warriors forward) David Lee knowing that he was something special when I was in junior high and now look at where he is today is pretty cool."

For Stastny, the mantra "There's No Place Like Home" fits the bill to a tee. It would have been tough for him to leave Colorado for anyplace else.

"In the end, you just want to win," said Stastny, who has 160 goals and 458 points in 538 career games spanning eight seasons. "You want to be comfortable in an area that you know away from hockey. What better area than going back home? For me, it's about winning and I look at this team, how good they are and how deep they are. I know in the last couple years, they've been that close. They could have beaten Chicago, Chicago could have easily beaten L.A. and been the Cup champions (this past season). They had good battles with L.A. when L.A. won (in 2012 and '13). It's so hard to win. That's what you're really looking at, is looking at the best chance to win with a good group of guys and I think that's what we have here."