Being 7-foot-2 as a center in the NBA is nothing out of the ordinary. Being a 7-foot-5 guy — with skates on — playing rec league hockey is a different story.
Greg Ostertag stands out, quite literally, while on the ice.
The former Utah Jazz big man played 11 seasons in the NBA — his last year being 2005-06 — and turned to hockey after his basketball days.
“When I got done playing ball, I was playing golf every day in Arizona,” said Ostertag. “The guy I played with, his son played [hockey], and I said, ‘We got to find something different to do.’ I already had a pair of skates made and I started skating again and got in two leagues out there.”
That was in 2009, and Ostertag was hitting the rink multiple times a week. These days, Ostertag’s passion for hockey is still as strong, but he’s only able to skate once a week since he lives three hours roundtrip from a sheet of ice.
Ostertag resides in the country in Mount Vernon, Texas, which is 100 miles northeast of Dallas.
“If I did live closer, I’d play at least two days a week,” said Ostertag, who played in a “Crazy Game of Hockey” charity event this summer through the Minnesota Wild. “I love it. I just love it. It’s really good exercise, that’s what I like about it.”
The 50-year-old plays for the Thunder Buddies in the lower C division in an adult league at the Dallas Stars’ StarCenter facility in Plano, Texas.
Just like when he played basketball, Ostertag is a center for his hockey team.
“Only because I’m good at winning faceoffs,” Ostertag joked. “It has nothing to do with speed or agility or handling the puck, nothing like that. I win the faceoff and I let one of my faster guys bring it up and I park in front of the net. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Ostertag, who wears size 15D skates, doesn’t know exactly why he is so dominant in the faceoff circle. However, having good hand-eye coordination as an athlete certainly does not hurt.
Boxing out smaller defensemen in front of the goalie is where Ostertag earns his playing time. He isn’t shy about scoring garbage goals.
“Oh, yeah. I got one the other night,” he said. “A guy drove the net, shot and it bounced off right in front of me and boom, there we go.
“Every once in a while I’ll get loose and get to let one go and score, but most of the time it’s trash.”
Ostertag can be an intimidating force when stepping onto the ice for rec league games, but his playing style and on-ice demeanor are not meant to threaten anyone.
“Most of the teams I play against now, they all know me, they’ve seen me,” he said. “They know how I play, what I play. They know I’m not out there to get on anyone. If you’ve made me mad on the ice, you’ve done something wrong. That’s not me, because I just go out there and try to have fun.”
When Ostertag was around 7 years old growing up in Duncanville, Texas, he played hockey for a couple years for the Dallas Black Hawks. The sport eventually got too expensive for his family, and he started to become too tall.
On top of hockey, Ostertag also played football and baseball before focusing on the sport that he played professionally.
“I played basketball because I was so tall,” he said. “[I] loved playing baseball. Baseball was my sport. I got out of it when I got to high school because I mainly focused on basketball.”
While living in Arizona following his basketball career, Ostertag linked up with the Arizona Coyotes and practiced with the team during the preseason for a few years.
Ostertag had a few words for the Coyotes coaches and players in his final skate with the team before he moved back to Texas in fall 2011.
“Rick Tocchet was standing there with Shane Doan and I said, ‘Hey, coach. I know it’s cut day, but make sure you give me a good look before you decide,’ and I had a big smile on my face. He said, ‘Alright. You got it.’ He smiled back and off I went.
“Then I got cut,” Ostertag joked.
Ostertag spends these days on his 50-acre farm where he takes care of animals. He also owns a sports bar and grill named Tag’s in Mount Vernon.
When Ostertag needs to blow off some steam from the grind of running a business, he turns to a sport he loves.
“I have an absolute ball playing hockey,” he said. “The one thing I like about it is it’s not hard on my knees. There’s no pounding, it’s just gliding.”
Ostertag will be the first to tell anyone he’s not the most fluid on skates, but that doesn’t deter him from playing.
“I keep waiting for the call-up from somebody, but my phone never rings,” he concluded in laughter.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.