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Ignoring distractions can start with Ott
Time to focus on the task at hand
3/7/11 - By Mike Lee -

I hate Steve Ott. Those are four words that have been muttered more than a few times at HP Pavilion. I hate Steve Ott, because the Sharks can't seem to ignore him. The Dallas Stars uber-pest offers little in terms of scoring punch or defensive prowess, but he’s turned annoying Sharks players into an art form. And for some reason, there are current San Jose players who don’t seem to be familiar with Ott’s history as Sharks antagonist.

I hate the fact that no matter what Ott’s done in his past, some Shark players can’t seem to get past the fact that his game is all about distracting them from theirs. He’s mastered the art of understanding the boundaries of NHL referees, and what they will let him get away with.

There are players that just assume that if on-ice officials don’t deal with Ott, it’s up to them to take care of him. The reality is there’s really nothing to take care of. If you’re a professional athlete, you should be able to discern a distraction from an action that retaliation.

Rookie defenseman Jason Demers has emerged as the focal point of every hockey pundit in North America over the weekend, when he responded to Ott’s antics by throwing a punch that failed to connect with the Stars forward. That punch, if you haven’t already seen, instead connected with linesman Brian Mach’s head.

The fact that Demers felt inclined to throw a punch at Ott validated his role and demonstrated that Demers needs a history lesson. Three years ago in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Ott and the rest of the Stars bounced the heavily favored Sharks from the playoffs by forcing San Jose to focus on something other than playing Sharks hockey.

It’s not like Ott plays in the Eastern Conference and they only see each other every other year. Ott plays in the same division, which means they play each other six times a year. His shtick hasn’t changed in the eight years he’s been in the league; yet opposing players still find it necessary to respond.

The Sharks seemingly dodged a bullet on Saturday night, after Demers unloaded his overhand blast to Mach. Demers was remorseful the second the punch landed, as he apologized to the linesman multiple times as he was escorted off the ice. Demers could have easily received a significant suspension for striking an official, but the league appears to recognize that the punch wasn’t intended for Mach.

That aside, the league could have unloaded on Demers, and few would be able to argue with any such sanction. How do you defend against the fact that a player struck an official. What’s worse, the incident could have cost the Sharks beyond the eventual loss to the Stars on Saturday.

What happens if Demers receives a lengthy suspension right as the Sharks hit the home stretch in the regular season schedule. A schedule loaded with nine of sixteen games against division opponents.

Three of those games come against the Stars. Those same Stars trail the Sharks by a mere three points in the standings. Another three points separates the Sharks from 8th place in the Western Conference standings, so every point counts from here on out. San Jose doesn’t have the luxury of letting a game or two slip because they felt the need to settle a score with an agitator.

If there’s one thing you can take to the bank, it’s the fact that Ott won’t change his approach against the Sharks. He won’t change that approach for any division rival. His game seems to get edgier as the playoffs get closer. He earned a major penalty for spearing Los Angeles Kings forward Kyle Clifford on Monday night in the Stars 4-3 overtime win, to go with a 10-minute misconduct.

Spearing isn’t a run of the mill penalty in the NHL, but seems appropriate coming from a player like Ott. San Jose will get two more chances in the regular season to show that they can ignore him. They can really show that they’re focused on one goal.

Get that job done, and there won’t be any reason to hate Steve Ott, because he’ll just be another novelty player that didn’t get in the way.


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