BY RANDY SCHULTZ —
In the movie “Cutting Edge” the character Doug Dorsey (played by actor D. B. Sweeney), who portray a former Olympic hockey player, is seen looking at a photo taken of himself smelling the ice. He remarks that when he would enter an ice arena he always liked to smell the ice because it had a certain odor.
While that may seem a bit strange to some people, to anyone who has spent a good portion of their lives in ice rinks it makes perfect sense.
One of those people it makes perfect sense to is Senator Robert G. Ortt, a New York State Senator for the 62nd District.
Ortt should know. He began skating at the age of two and hasn’t stopped even though a great deal of his time is spent serving the public he represents in the NYS Senate.
“I began skating on a pond with my dad at two,” recalled Ortt, a native of North Tonawanda. “I started playing organized hockey at five and played right on through my high school days.
“But even today when I walk into a hockey rink, there is that smell of the ice. It brings back a lot of hockey memories for me.
“To me, there is something relaxing about just smelling the ice. I don’t even have to be on skates to get that relaxing feeling.”
Ortt was a goalie who played for the Wheatfield Blades organization at, what was then known as “Sabreland, but what today is known as Hockey Outlet.
For nearly a decade and one-half Ortt played competitive hockey. He played high school hockey for St. Joeseph’s Collegiate Institute in Buffalo.
“My senior year (1996-97) we finished ranked number three in New York State,” remembered Ortt, who served as Mayor of North Tonawanda prior to becoming a State Senator. “That was the year we won the Western New York Federation Championship, beating St. Francis to win it.”
One of the most influential people in Ortt’s hockey career was his dad, Robert Ortt Sr.
“My dad was either my coach or an assistant coach for many, many years,” said Ortt, who resides with his wife, Meghan, in North Tonawanda. “And I now realize that it wasn’t easy being a dad, being the coach and having your son on the same team.”
One other individual that Ortt felt was very influential in his hockey career was his high school coach, John Mickler. The Senator recalled a defining moment in his hockey career in high school.
“I remember that championship game we were in, I believe we were down, 3-1,” commented Ortt. “I had just given up the third goal and it was what I thought a soft goal.
“I thought for sure that the coaches were going to pull me. I was at the far end of the ice and would have to make a longer skate past the oppositions bench to our bench.
“But Coach Mickler didn’t pull me. I heard later that he told the assistant coach on the team, “Bobby’s going to fight this one out.”
“I was always thankful that he believed in me enough to keep me in such a big game. We did come back to win.
“And I appreciate that belief in me to this day.”
Why did Ortt become a goalie?
“Probably for the same reason I got into politics,” he replied jokingly. “I began the game as a defenseman who liked to stop the puck.
“But I always looked at goalies as being the difference makers. I guess I just wanted to be the player who made the difference in a game.
“I know it can be a lonely position as well. So you can see how it relates to my political life today.”
Ortt also served in the NY Army National Guard. He is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
He is the recipient of the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, the Afghan Medal and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge of recognition of his service.
“I think being on team in hockey and learning the ‘team concept’ helped me when I entered the military and being on a ‘team’ in the army,” stated Ortt, the son of Suzette and Robert Ortt. “I also believe that the competitive spirit I picked up in hockey has helped me in my political career.
“I think a lot of what I learned as a hockey player has helped me in life. As a hockey player I had to be focused and disciplined.
“You have to be the same in life and the job I know have.”
Ortt tells a light-hearted story that happened to him while he was in Afghanistan.
“I was on a Canadian base,” said Ortt. “This was part of a NATO-led mission.
“At their camp the Canadian’s had constructed a street hockey rink. They had a league and there was a Canadian team and a US team.
“At another base about 40 miles from us there was another rink, as well as a Tim Horton’s that had been constructed there and operated and staffed by a group of Canadians. Just before I got there I found out that Don Cherry (of Hockey Night In Canada Fame) and Mats Sundin had just visited the base with the Stanley Cup.
“I travelled 7000 miles to a place most people don’t want to be in. But I was around Canadians and hockey.
“While we were still in danger and had to do battle, there was still some down time where you could take your mind off the situation, even if only for a few minutes.
“The military and hockey all in one deployment to Afghanistan. Pretty amazing.”