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Thunderbirds exit interview with captain Turner Ottenbreit

With his Seattle career over, Turner Ottenbreit is finishing the season in the AHL (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

Being traded at just 17-years-old can be a tough pill to swallow for a young hockey player.

That pill became a reality for Turner Ottenbreit two games into his first full season with the Saskatoon Blades in September of 2014. The Seattle Thunderbirds had one too many 20-year-old players on the roster and sent defenseman Adam Henry to the Blades in exchange for Ottenbreit, also a defenseman.

It wasn’t a trade that raised many eyebrows at the time and for Ottenbreit it meant moving from Saskatoon, a city close to his hometown in Yorkton, Sask., to a new club and a lot of unknowns.

“At first I was thinking ‘holy smokes, I’m going across the country and to a different country to play’”, Ottenbreit says of the trade. “I knew a couple guys, but what is this? Am I even going to play here? And the whole first couple of weeks I was worried but from there on in it was such a good group here and staff that it just kind of set in. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”

The Thunderbirds wouldn’t change a thing either.

Ottenbreit played 68 games that first year and showed quickly that Seattle had made a steal in the trade that brought him over. He especially showed a lot of chemistry with his old defensive partner, Ethan Bear, from their days manning the blue line for the Yorkton Harvest. The two would be partners again for the bulk of their time together with the Thunderbirds.

Four years, 321 games, two conference titles, a WHL Championship, and a captaincy later, Ottenbreit ends his Seattle career in style.

He wasn’t a defenseman who put up staggering offensive numbers but night in and night out he would take on the opposition’s best offensive players and help establish Seattle as a top defensive club. In the team’s Championship season he led the Western Conference with an impressive plus-45 defensive rating and ends his WHL career with a plus-76, never one season was he a minus player.

Ottenbreit stood up for his teammates on the ice which made him public enemy number one in most visiting arenas – something that he found comical. In the 2017 WHL Final, his Game 1 hit on Regina’s Adam Brooks helped set the tone that the Pats were not a physical match for Seattle.

Off the ice, he’s humble and always willing to chat with media and fans alike. This past year the club voted him as the Thunderbirds Humanitarian of the Year in its end of the year team awards.

Not a bad resume for a player who almost didn’t make the WHL.

In the 2012 Bantam Draft, Ottenbreit had to wait a long time to hear his named called. He was passed over 232 times during 11-plus rounds of drafting. Finally, with the fourth to last pick, the Blades selected him.

He’s taken advantage of the opportunity.

“It’s crazy to think about,” he says of his career. “When I was 13 or 14-years-old I was watching Saskatoon Blades games or Regina Pats games and thinking ‘I wish I could play in that league one day’. To have the success I’ve had here is something I’ll never forget, for sure.”

Ottenbreit was passed up again when it came time for the NHL draft. He’s been invited to a number of pro camps but has yet to sign a contract. That may change this summer.

A day after he said his goodbyes to the Thunderbirds, he was on his way to San Antonio to finish his season playing with the Colorado Avalanche’s American Hockey League affiliate. It’s an amateur try out and he will again have to prove himself moving forward.

Just as he took advantage of his opportunity in Seattle, he would last week as well with the San Antonio Rampage. In the first period of his first pro game, he fired a slap shot from the point and scored his first pro goal.

As Ottenbreit moves forward, chasing his goal of playing pro hockey, he will always be a part of the Seattle club that went on its historic run last year. He was a fan favorite and it was a love affair that went both ways.

“They’re so passionate, and they understand the game,” he says about the Seattle fans. “To have that as your fanbase and support group is unbelievable. Every night its loud in here and it’s a good environment. If you weren’t ready to play the game, or thinking about something else, it always tunes you in.”

He was named the team’s captain this year and after last week’s final horn in Everett, his teammates mobbed him at center ice. Despite the loss, they wanted to pay their respects, and thanks, to their leader.

Ottenbreit speaks fondly of his time in Seattle, especially the run the club has been on over the past two years. He smiles and thinks forward to days in the future when he’ll get to tell all the stories about his days playing junior hockey.

“I can’t put it into words,” he says about what the last four years have meant to him personally. “You look at what we’ve done here the last couple of years and its crazy. It’s been a ride, that’s all I can say.”