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Young Star Ott is a walking contradiction

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

October 27, 2003

By J. Douglas Foster

Glenn James
Those who have played against Steve Ott during his short NHL career probably don't have a lot of good things to say about the Stars' feisty young center.

Then again, why would they? On the ice, Ott can't be anyone an opponent would like much. He talks trash. He plays with a physical edge. He has no problem sticking up for a teammate, getting his nose in the middle of a post-play scrum or fighting his way to the front of the net to create traffic in front of an opposing goaltender.

He is, in a word, a pest.

"On the ice, he's an iron worker," said Stars right wing Aaron Downey, a friend of Ott's who trained in Sweden this summer with Ott. "He's blue collar. That kid has no fear of anything, and guys with no fear of anything don't come along very often.

"He's gonna find some way to intimidate you, either with his mouth or by throwing a check right into your chest. He just pisses you off, and that throws you off your game."

Here is where the irony of Steve Ott appears.

He's all that and more on the ice.

But off the ice?

"He's just a rambunctious kid," Stars head coach Dave Tippett said. "Some people will tell you they enjoy life, but he really enjoys life and playing the game, and he enjoys people."

For those who don't know Ott personally, the on-ice persona doesn't quite match the off-ice attitude.

Admittedly, he makes his living by being a thorn in the side of the opposition. With the size and speed of players in this era of the National Hockey League, he feels he has to be that kind of player to get an edge.

"If I didn't do that, I wouldn't be here," Ott said. "Look at me. I'm a buck-80, just a skinny, weak kid. But I try to make the other team notice me, because I'm going to go at it hard all the time. I'm going to finish my check every time, even if the game is 10-0.

"That's what makes the other team think you're a jerk."

That's Ott on the ice.

Off the ice, however, he's young, energetic and personable. He's seemingly at home and comfortable in any situation, whether it's hanging out and joking with his teammates, talking to the media or stopping to make conversation and sign autographs with large throngs of fans (which he did for an extended time after a recent team practice at Grapevine Mills).

"He's just a great guy," Downey said. "He's a real free spirit, and he'll do anything for you."

Ott is willing to do anything for his friends and teammates because he's seen someone make huge sacrifice for him. In fact, the sacrifices made by his family are the reason he is in the position he's in today.

Often times, kids don't recognize the lengths to which their parents have gone to help them reach their dreams. Ott, however, isn't one of those people. He knows exactly what his parents did for him.

It started for Ott when he started playing hockey, as a very young child. His parents, career military members, wanted to give their son a better life than they had experienced. Ott's mother had grown up in the Yukon, one of the most primitive areas of Canada, while his father experienced, according to Ott, a "difficult life" before they both joined the Air Force.

Growing up as a "military brat," Ott dealt with numerous moves from city to city. He repeatedly had to start over with friends until he was 13, when his family finally settled just outside of Windsor, Ontario.

That childhood could very well be the reason Ott is so easily approachable and so willing to make new friends.

"Probably as a kid he moved around so much that he had to learn how to make friends fast," Tippett said.

What Ott didn't have growing up, however, was a shortage of support for his hockey game. Despite the fact that military salaries aren't going to make any family rich, Ott's parents, he said, always make sure he had what he needed to gain a competitive edge in the game he loved.

"Salaries in the Air Force aren't the best," Ott said, "and they had to sacrifice for me. They always did, and they made sure I had everything; the newest skates, the best equipment; and they paid for me to play Triple-A hockey, which isn't cheap.

"They sacrificed a lot in their lives so I could do what I love."

He hasn't forgotten that. That's probably the reason he plays the way he does, because he feels he's doing so not just for himself, but for his parents who made sure he got to the NHL.

Now that he's there, his plan is to continue to improve and help his team win a Stanley Cup. He also wants to become more of an established NHL player and, one day, sign the NHL contract that will help him return the favor to his parents.

"As soon as I get my groundwork established, get my balance," Ott said, "then I would love to do something big for them. Paying off their mortgage would be the biggest thing I would like to do."

See, we told you he was a nice guy -- no matter what members of the other 29 NHL teams might say.

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