When the Thunderbirds took the ice to face the Tri-City Americans on opening night this past Saturday, defenseman Turner Ottenbreit was not in the lineup.
He was healthy but had to serve a one-game suspension that stemmed back to last spring’s WHL finals. Despite that, there he was during the pregame ceremonies, skating out to center ice through the fog and light show, in full uniform, stick raised to acknowledge the ShoWare Center faithful.
“They actually told me I wasn’t allowed to go out there, I said ‘there’s no way I’m not’,” Ottenbreit said about the pregame ceremony.
The 20-year-old from Yorkton, Sask. received one of the biggest cheers from the crowd when introduced and the fans may have noticed a change to his uniform. This year, he’s wearing the captain’s ‘C’ on his chest as he becomes the 34th team captain in the history of the Thunderbirds franchise.
It should come as no surprise that the bruising blue-liner was tabbed by head coach Matt O’Dette to be a leader for Seattle. He’s entering his fourth season with the Thunderbirds and was as much a key to the team’s success the past few years as anyone else.
“It’s a huge honor,” Ottenbreit said of being captain. “You look at the guys who’ve worn it in the past and just great team guys, great role players. It’s just a huge honor to be part of this organization in such a way.”
The team captain is an important role in all sports, but there’s something special about the captain in hockey.
Yes, the captain is the guy that will go and speak to the referees to get explanation of penalties, but the role is much more than that. The captain is the guy the rest of the team looks to when things are tough. He’s a leader, he’s the one to pick guys up, set an example, and set the tone.
There are many different ways to lead. Some guys are vocal while others prefer to lead quietly by example.
“I like to be vocal in the room,” Ottenbreit said. “I like to lead in any way I can. Do the best I can personally and try to be helpful and positive to everybody on the team, help get some wins.”
It seems that Ottenbreit will lead in a similar way that he plays.
Big hits have become the standard for the defenseman. Just ask Regina’s Adam Brooks, who got caught by Ottenbreit in Game 1 of the WHL Finals. It knocked the high-scoring forward out of the lineup for most of the series but it also set a tone for both teams. It let everyone know, the Thunderbirds meant business.
Seattle has a younger team this year and Ottenbreit will be one of the veteran guys that the club will lean on. He’s a guy the younger players can look up to and learn from.
He wants those young guys to realize what an honor it is to play in the WHL and for the Thunderbirds.
“They’re in such a great spot here in Seattle,” he said about his younger teammates. “I remember back to the days when I was a young guy. I looked to the guys like Justin Hickman and Shea Theodore and those guys. I try to be like them, be a leader in the room.”
Ottenbreit’s WHL journey is a remarkable one and should serve as an inspiration for his teammates.
He was the second to last player chosen in the 2012 Bantam Draft where was selected by the Saskatoon Blades in the 12th round, with 260 players picked before him. Players picked in the 12th round are usually nothing more than training camp fodder but the Thunderbirds’ scouts liked Ottenbreit and when an opportunity to pick him up in a trade presented itself, Seattle jumped on it.
Since joining the Thunderbirds he has become a mainstay on the blue line and this year will be on the top defensive pairing yet again. Last year his plus-minus of plus-45 was tops in the Western Conference and he also chipped in with a career-best seven goals and 35 points on the season.
It’s not a bad resume for a guy who was nearly overlooked completely in his Bantam draft year.
“Five, six years ago, looking back to think I’d be in this spot today, it’s a huge honor,” Ottenbreit said. “I’m proud of myself and proud of my teammates for what we’ve done the past couple of years here.”
The ascension of the guy they call ‘Otto’ has earned him some looks from the NHL ranks.
He just spent a couple of weeks with the Anaheim Ducks, in their training camp. It was the third straight year that Ottenbreit spent time in an NHL camp and one has to think that there will be a free agent offer of some kind waiting at the end of this season.
Playing in camp with the Ducks, and former coach Steve Konowalchuk, gave him a boost of confidence.
“It was a great experience, Anaheim’s a great organization,” Ottenbreit said. “Got into a couple of games and it went well, I’m happy to be back. You look down the road and you think maybe in a couple of years, you’re not that far away. It gives you something to strive for.”
Ottenbreit will be back on the Seattle back end this coming Friday night when the Thunderbirds host the Prince George Cougars. He’ll be wearing the ‘C’ on his sweater and most likely delivering some bone crushing checks to unsuspecting Cougar forwards.
The season is just getting started and Ottenbreit says he has some pretty simple goals in mind.
“Have a good year and see what happens,” He said. “There’s a lot of hockey left.”