Jed Ortmeyer: The Houston Aeros' Medical Miracle Man
Right wing Jed Ortmeyer joined the Houston Aeros on New Year's Day. The team had already started showing signs of life right after Christmas, but when Ortmeyer came on board, the team soared, going on a January spree that saw them lose only two games.
John Royal Aeros right wing Jed Ortmeyer watches the action unfold on the ice
A look at the stat sheet doesn't quite show Ortmeyer's importance to a team that's engaged in an epic fight with 11 other AHL teams for one of eight playoff spots. Ortmeyer only has ten points in his 28 games since joining the team (four goals and six assists), but the Aeros didn't leap to sign Ortmeyer because of his goal-scoring abilities, they jumped on the 32-year-old veteran because of his willingness to do the little things, to make the hits, to fling his body about on the ice to block shots.
"He's an honest player," Aeros head coach Mike Yeo said after Friday's 2-1 shootout loss to Manitoba. "There's a reason why a guy like that -- so many teams covet a guy like that because of what he brings to the table. He's a great role player. He's going to give you an honest effort each and every night. The little things that he does, as far as just being in good position and defensively and making the right decisions with the puck, and his penalty killing on top of that."
Ortmeyer nearly died in 2006, and probably would have were it not for his youth and his excellent physical conditioning. He thought he was just suffering from overtraining, but he ended up in a New York ER and discovered that he suffers from pulmonary embolism, a condition that makes blood prone to clotting. His doctors advised him to retire. But retirement's not in him, so every day he injects himself with blood thinner. He wears extra padding to cut down on bruises, and he wears compression socks when he travels.
"It's a routine that obviously, if I want to keep playing, I have to continue to do it," Ortmeyer says. "For me, it's kind of given me a second lease on my life, obviously, and my hockey career. I enjoy playing hockey. I love being around the guys and the camaraderie that comes with it. For me, I just didn't feel like I was ready to be done, so I found a way to continue to play and enjoy what I love doing. To be able to come to the rink, I think it, as corny and clichéd as it sounds, to approach every day like it's your last, that's kind of the attitude that I've had since this whole thing happened a few years ago."
John Royal Jed Ortmeyer leads the action down the ice
Yet despite all of this, Ortmeyer skates out to his position every night and leads his line into battle. And it's this willingness to go out there every night, and the way he approaches the game that makes him that guy who, when he speaks, everyone feels the necessity to listen.
"But more than that, he's a guy that has a very good pulse for what the team needs to hear at that time, whether it's between periods, whether it's on the bench," Yeo said. "He's a guy when things get a little bit hectic and he needs to calm them down, he's quick to do that, or if things are a little bit sleepy, he's quick to pick them up. I think a big part of that is experience, but it's also making sure that first and foremost you go out and do the right thing to give yourself that credibility. So when you speak, guys listen."
Ortmeyer didn't have a professional contract to start the season. He was cut in camp by the New York Islanders. He signed a Professional Tryout contract with the San Antonio Rampage, but things didn't work for him there, and because that team was so loaded with the veterans that the AHL development rules mandated that several of them sit out every night, Ortmeyer found himself sitting. Then the Aeros came calling.
John Royal Jed Ortmeyer sets up the offense
"I try to lead by example," he said. "I come in every day and I have a good attitude. I work hard, and it's important for these guys to learn how to be professionals and take advantage of their time, and they need to get better each day and come in during practice and do what they need to do to get to the next level."
As the team fights for a playoff spot, Ortmeyer finds himself reminding the youngsters of something more important than the playoffs. And something that, if the players follow his example, the team doesn't even have to worry about because the playoffs will be a lock. It's something that perhaps only a veteran player living with his condition has the ability to realize and share.
And that something is real simple: They've just got to go out and have fun because this game could be their last.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Aeros lost to the Manitoba Moose 2-1 in the shootout on Friday night, but they set a franchise record with six third-period goals to defeat Manitoba 6-3 yesterday afternoon. With that win, the Aeros are 38-25-1-5 on the season with 11 games left in the season. They are one point behind the Milwaukee Admirals for first place in the division, but they are just three points ahead of the fourth place.