ST. LOUIS — Steve Ott’s work for the morning with his new team was done. But he wanted to make sure to stick around long enough to salute his old one.
As the Buffalo Sabres were opening their morning skate Thursday in Scottrade Center, their former captain stood on a vacant bench in the empty arena. Coach Ted Nolan came over to greet him and chat. Several former teammates, who had just started laps around the ice, made a quick right turn to stop and shake Ott’s hand, too.
“When Ryan and I went to dinner with a lot of the boys last night, we reminisced on some good times,” Ott said, referring to former Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. “There’s a lot of close friends I’ll have for life over there. But once it’s game on, game on.”
“Steve’s such a character guy,” Nolan said. “I’m sure he adds quite a dimension to this St. Louis team. He’s a very competitive soul. To go on a competitive team with Ryan Miller, St. Louis is well taken care of.”
Ott has only two assists in 16 games for the Blues after collecting nine goals and 11 assists in 59 games for the Sabres. But he’s not here to score. St. Louis has plenty of other guys who can do that.
“I’ve never been on a team with this amount of depth in my life,” Ott said. “The depth is really scary. The forwards, one of the best defense groups I’ve ever seen and the goalies. When we get going and really play our game, it’s just wave after wave stuff the way we go.”
Ott said he and Miller were immediately welcomed into what was a close-knit St. Louis locker room. He has been telling St. Louis reporters since he arrived how much promise he sees in the Sabres’ future and reiterated that stance Thursday, especially when discussing young defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.
“The sky’s the limit for those kids. I truthfully believe they’re going to be phenomenal talents,” Ott said. “Once I came here and you see Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk and see the level these guys are playing at, then you look back and say, ‘Wow, that Zadorov kid and Ristolainen are pretty good players at that young age.’
“Wait until they put 5-6 years on them like these guys have. Watching how they develop in the NHL is going to be scary.”
Asked to reflect on his time in Buffalo, Ott said he was proud to get the chance to wear the “C” on his sweater.
“If I could help just one guy on the team or he took one thing from me, I felt I did my job,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of great kids over there who are going to be great hockey players for years to come in this league.”
Big winger Chris Stewart, out since suffering what the Sabres expected to be a season-ending ankle injury March 6 at Tampa Bay, was a surprise participant in the morning skate and now thinks he’ll play again this year.
“He’s way ahead,” said Nolan. “We thought for sure he wouldn’t be touching the ice until mid-summer. That shows you kind of the rehab he’s been getting by our medical team.”
“The training staff has been working wonders so far,” Stewart said. “You get traded, you get hurt and they’re on a two-week road trip and you’re alone in Buffalo. You’re kind of down. This is the stuff you miss. Locker room camaraderie, joking around with the boys.”
Stewart was KO’d by Tampa goalie Anders Lindback, who bowled right into his ankle as they were chasing a loose puck that would have been a breakaway. Think of it as the reverse Milan Lucic.
“They try to protect the goalies at all costs. Next time, I’m going to probably keep my head down and go through him,” Stewart said. “I came out on the short end of the stick. Next time I’m not going to err on the side of caution.”
A stormy night in Missouri featured tornado warnings that had arena officials on edge and ushers preparing to evacuate spectators and media to safety areas.
Late in the second period, an announcement was made over the public address system about the weather and a scoreboard message instructed fans to stay in their seats away from glass walls in the concourse. There were 75-mph winds, hail and heavy rain but no twisters downtown. Loud thunder booms outside were audible during play.
It was similar to what happened in the morning. Around 5:30 a.m., the Sabres’ traveling party had been rousted from their rooms at the downtown Westin hotel by tornado sirens. Guests at the property across from Busch Stadium were instructed to go to the basement but no twister struck. There was, however, a small one that caused some damage in the first-ring suburb of University City.
“You usually get fire alarms but never get tornado warnings,” Nolan said. “It was certainly something different.”
“Millsy and I are up in an apartment right now and Millsy said I wasn’t in the basement sitting beside him,” joked Ott, referring to Miller’s nickname.
“So I think he was hiding for cover. I’m kind of used to that Southern, Midwest weather from Dallas.”
A smiling Nolan, when asked if he was disappointed Miller wasn’t starting in goal for the Blues, “Not at all. We’ll save that for another day. I’m just glad he’s going to do the job with St. Louis.”
Nolan said Matt Hackett will play goal for the Sabres tonight in Detroit, and Hackett will be greeted by the return of one of the NHL’s top playmakers.
Pavel Datsyuk will play for the Red Wings, ending a five-week absence nursing a left knee that has nagged him since December. Veteran Daniel Alfredsson (back), who hasn’t skated in four days, will try this morning and could also return.