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Snarl, energy make up Ott's game

by Larry Wigge

Dallas Stars agitator Steve Ott gets in the face of Detroit goalie Chris Osgood. Watch Steve Ott lay a hit on the Red Wings' Brad Stuart
No goals. No assists. But Steve Ott was buzzing all over the ice, so it would be wrong to say he had no impact on the Dallas Stars' 3-1 win against the Red Wings in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

"When we look for energy, he's one of the guys we look to," Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. "He hits, he agitates, he buzzes, he was a presence in front of the net on my goal, even if he didn't get an assist."

Mike Modano and Morrow scored in the third period in Game 4, and Marty Turco was superb in Game 5 in Detroit as Dallas forced a Game 6 Monday back in Dallas (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).

"That little bit of pressure of being down in a series 3-0 has to push you to do the little things, the team things," Ott said. "We saw San Jose come back against us down 3-0. That worried us. Now, we have to worry them."

Steve Ott gets that scary snarl on his face on the ice. Off the ice, he always seems to have a smile. Ott loves to talk about gamesmanship, about playing with an edge, about getting a player off his game or under his skin and about the challenge of trying to shut down one of his opponent's best players.

"Just give me a shot at playing head up against a Jarome Iginla or Joe Thornton or a Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg," the 25-year-old mucker told me before Game 4. "I'm not going to be a 50-goal scorer, so I had to find my role and that seems to be trying to take an opponent off his game, whether it's with a big hit or some trash-talking. I don't care. All I know is I love to take on guys like that in the compete level. That's my favorite part of the game.

"It's no different from a fighter doing his homework, watching tape to know the moves of his opponent better. It's all art," Ott explained. "Put me up against an Iginla or Thornton and it can escalate into a real battle of physicality, especially in the playoffs when I just can't pass up the opportunity to hit one of those guys. The other guys, the high-skilled, less-physical guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg? Well, words are not the best way to try to get into their heads. You have to just outwork them."

The gamesmanship for Dallas' victory in Game 4 came when the line of Toby Petersen, Loui Eriksson and Joel Lundqvist was asked to neutralize Detroit's big line -- and, in the end, Dallas' checkers had one goal and the line of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom only one. In Game 5, Lundqvist scored the winner while the Wings' big three went scoreless.

Energy was what the Stars needed. And the No. 1 cheerleader in this department? You guessed it, Steve Ott.

If you can feel the energy and passion in his words, you can understand why Ott has become one of Dallas' key players this season and in these playoffs. For the first time in five seasons Ott has been healthy. No shoulder and ankle surgeries like he had in 2004. No double-hernia surgery like in 2005. And no surgery on both ankles that took him out for almost all of 2006-07. And a healthy Ott has shown the hockey world that he's much, much more than just a guy who loves to drop his gloves and go toe-to-toe with his fists.

"Otto's strengths are his grittiness and work ethic," said Stars coach Dave Tippett, who admitted there might have been a time when he worried that Ott might cross the fine line away from the skills that helped him become a first-round pick, 25th overall, in the 2000 Entry Draft.

Believe it or not, Ott scored 50 goals for Windsor -- in 55 games -- the season after he was drafted by Dallas. That was second in the Ontario Hockey League. After netting just 10 goals in his first 200 NHL games in four seasons, Steve had 11 goals and 11 assists this season. And he has added another two goals and one assist in the playoffs, including the game-winning goal in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs against Anaheim.

"Emotion," Tippett continued, "is a good thing -- and he brings good, positive emotion. It's an emotion that often drags a lot of his teammates along with him. Did I say often? There's no doubt we love the passion and impact he brings every night. What I like most is that he's in the middle of the gutsiest part of the game ... all the time."

If it sounds like there are plenty of layers to this personality who wears No. 29 for the Stars, you're right.

First of all, he came into this series against the Red Wings with very different and distinct feelings. After all, he grew up in Windsor, Ontario, as a big Wings fan -- Steve Yzerman in particular.

"How could you not like the Red Wings while they're winning three Stanley Cups and are so successful. They were such a fun team to watch, but ..."

That smile grows larger on Ott's face, with a little bit of that snarl as well as he continued, "I WAS a huge fan (the operative word is was). All my friends are still Detroit Red Wings fans to this day, so it's quite the controversy. My buddies are cheering for us and them at the same time.

"Right now, I guess, it's more of a feeling of respect for them, since they finished first. But we were on their heels until a bad March. They've had our number for a few years now, but playoffs are a different brand of hockey. We have to show them what we're made of."

Ott defies the rules that a guy who primarily uses his fists can also be a pretty smart fellow.

"His comments to the other team are pretty funny sometimes," Red Wings winger Dallas Drake said. "He definitely digs into your background before playing against you. He knows a lot of things. But this season he kind of had a breakthrough as a player offensively. You know you don't find many 10-plus goal scorers and fighters. To me, it's a compliment the way he's improved his game."

Smart and fighter? No, it's not a misprint. It could come from his background as the son of two Air Force parents, going from base to base and place to place before winding up in Windsor. Butch Ott was a warrant officer in the Canadian Air Force. Debby, Steve's mom, was also in the Air Force. Currently, Butch is an ice manager at a rink in Windsor. He also serves as scout for the Stars. Both parents were obviously big influences on Steve's life.

Ott laughed after he mentioned his mom, shortly after Mother's Day. "My mom's the sparkplug. She's the one who provides the energy in the family," Ott said. "She loves it when I score a goal more than the fighting. But I also think it's funny when she wants to know I said to a guy before a fight and what the other guy said to me."

Inquisitive and studious? It does run in the family. And how about this character player with the quick wit? Ott is so creative that when he was named to Team Canada for the 2001 World Junior Tournament he went to different people to find out a few words or phrases he could use to get the Swedes, Finns and Swiss players off their game.

To me, becoming an agitator all comes from being competitive and working hard. You make a big hit and there's going to be some yapping back and forth. You know? - Steve Ott
"Mostly curse words," he laughed. "I'm not sure if I was even saying them correctly. But you should have seen some of the looks I got. I definitely got them thinking about me and not the game."

Butch Ott once said that he thought Steve started being the agitator when he was living in Winnipeg when he was about 5 years old.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Ott said, shaking his head. "To me, becoming an agitator all comes from being competitive and working hard. You make a big hit and there's going to be some yapping back and forth. You know?

"With me, the hit or the confrontation comes first, then the yapping," he said. "To me, there's a fine line I have to skate on between playing good, hard-working hockey and, well, crossing over the line. I'm trying to stay on the straight and narrow. I want to stay on the ice."

Still, there are those times …

"There are times out there when guys on the other side want to kill him," laughed defenseman Stephane Robidas.

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