WINNIPEG, Manitoba — By the time the Buffalo Sabres’ dressing room was opened to reporters after the pregame skate around noon on Tuesday, the Internet and social media were already ablaze with chatter about Sabres forward Steve Ott.
The first-year Sabre has had no qualms about taking on any subject this season. And especially since the trade of captain Jason Pominville, Ott has joined goaltender Ryan Miller in becoming a de facto spokesman for the team.
First Niagara Center fans have taken to Ott’s gritty, in-your-face style of play but Ott has been taken by the paying customers’ attitudes toward many of his teammates. And he’s not happy.
Unprompted by reporters after Sunday’s shootout win over New Jersey, Ott brought up the booing and Bronx cheers of fans during that game. He really let go his frustrations Tuesday during his weekly show on WGR Radio when he twice called the fans’ actions “completely ridiculous.”
The Sabres return home today and play three home games in four days starting Thursday against Montreal. And Ott isn’t concerned about the reaction he might get on home ice.
“I’m not worried about it, not at all,” Ott said as he was swarmed by the media at MTS Centre. “We’re here to work hard, to show up every single night. We’re trying to be competitive with what we have in this dressing room. They’re proud, passionate fans. I love it. I think we’re all that way. I’m an emotional player. They’re emotional fans.”
Ott admitted he’s concerned about how the fans’ reaction will be perceived by players around the NHL, especially when it comes time for the Sabres to try to lure newcomers through free agency or trades.”
“The reason why I care so much is because I have desire to be a Buffalo Sabre for a long time,” said Ott, whose contract is up after next season. “I don’t want to go anywhere. I’ve made that quite clear I want to be here for a long time.
“If I’m a UFA guy or trying to attract players, there’s nothing better than coming into a building knowing, ‘Wow, this is a fun place to play.’ And that’s obviously concerning in the aspect of UFAs and trying to attract the right players into the Buffalo Sabres.”
The Ott story made national news on both sides of the border, with stories referring to WGR and the Sabres Edge blog at Buffalonews.com running on TSN in Canada as well as outlets such NBC’s Prohockeytalk.com, CBSSports.com and Yahoo.
Asked by WGR host Howard Simon what he thought of the fans Sunday night, Ott said he was agitated when players such as Brian Flynn, Mark Pysyk and Luke Adam – who have spent most of the year in Rochester – were hearing catcalls for clearing the puck out of the Buffalo zone after New Jersey kept the puck in for more than two minutes at a couple stretchs.
“It’s disheartening when we did get hemmed in our zone and they’re basically mocking us when you get up past the blueline,” Ott said. “I guess you can say it was more the mocking of my teammates and everything else that probably [ticked] a lot of guys off, including myself.
“You’re a fan of the Buffalo Sabres and hopefully you come to cheer us on and motivate us to be good. We’ve got a lot of young players on this team and they definitely don’t deserve to be booed. They deserve to have that excitement and energy. It’s definitely not their fault for the last six years of frustration that’s gone on.”
Told by Simon that’s exactly the fans’ point, Ott pressed on.
“I don’t care how frustrated anybody is. Negativity breeds negativity and if you want to see a bad product on the ice, continue to boo,” he said. “What do you expect? You’re obviously going to get a negative result. It would be nice to have the positive atmosphere and maybe that will transition into a heck of a hockey game or maybe even a scoring chance or opportunity. It definitely is very uplifting when the crowd is on your side.”
Ott backed off some of his comments near the end of the interview when he said, “I’m not bagging on our fans at all because we do have a lot of fantastic fans.”
When he met reporters here later in the day, he threw fans another olive branch when he said, “Obviously they pay a lot of hard-earned money to watch us play. In certain situations, we wish we could find some positive atmosphere from our crowd or some excitement to kind of push us through the hard spots.”
Interim coach Ron Rolston, who also expressed surprise at the fans’ reaction Sunday, was diplomatic Tuesday when asked about them again in the wake of Ott’s interview.
“I don’t think we can’t worry about that. There’s bigger things to worry about,” Rolston said. “It’s how it is. Expectations are extremely high in Buffalo right now and we haven’t lived up to that. That’s partly on us. We’ve got to do the job too but we certainly want them to support us.”
Even professional tennis player Jessie Pegula, the 19-year-old daughter of billionaire Sabres owner Terry Pegula, weighed in on Twitter with a series of thoughts on Ott.
“He’s right, all these young guys getting their chance to play in the show and the future of this franchise. They don’t deserve to be booed,” she said. “It’s completely out of their control what’s happened past/present/future. If you’re not happy w/management then do anything but boo them.”