By Mike Flach
The Dinosaurs hockey program got a terrific boost this summer with the addition of former NHL center Joel Otto as the team’s new assistant coach, replacing the recently departed Mike Chomack.
“I think it’s an incredible plus for the program here. [Otto is] a guy that’s extremely recognizable to
anyone that has followed the NHL at all,” commented former Dinos captain and ‘supporter of the program’ Jamie Pegg.
Since retiring a year ago from the Philadelphia Flyers, Otto has wanted to give back to the sport which has made up the majority of his life. “I wanted to get back in somehow,” said Otto.
By playing NCAA hockey at Bemidji State University in Minnesota,
Otto has knowledge of college hockey.
“I’ve played at the collegiate level before,” said Otto. “I played [at Bemidji] for four years, I understand the college life.”
Players at Bemidji were pretty much there to pursue a hockey career, but also to get an education. The smaller college allowed players to plan for futures other than hockey, and this is very similar to the life of Dino players.
“He understands the struggles of the student athletes,” said Pegg. “He also understands how to overcome them and be extremely successful.”
And successful he has been. He was a Western All-American in 1983 and ’84 with Bemidji. In 943 NHL games with the Flyers and the Calgary Flames, he accumulated 195 goals and 313 assists for 508 points. The highlight of his NHL career came in 1989 as part of the Stanley Cup winning Flames team.
“He’s really going to add something to the coaching staff,” commented Dinos hockey Head Coach Tim Bothwell.
With Otto’s extensive knowledge from a terrific NHL career, he will give the coaching staff another way to assist the players.
Being a former NHL defenseman, Bothwell looks at the game from that perspective. The other assistant coach, Kevin Kobelka also worked with defensemen his entire Dino career. For this reason, the addition of Otto will give a more balanced approach for the forwards.
“Joel will be a great guy that we can turn the forwards over to on occasion,” said Bothwell. “He will work with the penalty killers. That was one of his specialities. He’s a great penalty killer. He and Kevin will be in charge of the penalty killing unit.”
Besides penalty killing, Otto was known as one of the premier faceoff men in the NHL and his expertise will help the Dino centers.
“He’s a great faceoff guy,” said Bothwell. “That was an area that we were lacking in last year and this year that is one specific area where he’ll have a lot of good suggestions and pointers for the guys. He’ll be a great resource for the players, Coach Kobelka, myself and whomever else works with us.”
The easy-going Otto is happy just to be helping out in whatever role is necessary.
“I’m just there to do whatever Tim [Bothwell] wants,” said Otto. “This will be a great learning experience.”
Otto originally approached Bothwell at the end of last season looking to learn and become introduced to coaching in Calgary.
“We got together about a month later in mid-late May and chatted about it a bit. It seemed like it was a really good fit, in terms of what he wanted to do and what we needed.” said Bothwell. “Joel just wants to get his feet wet in coaching, to see if he likes it. He wants to give something back to the game.”
After getting back from Minnesota in September, Otto will start almost immediately, working at every practice. He will not travel with the team, which is a bonus for Otto, who has a family. This first year will definitely give both Otto and the Dinos program chances to learn and grow.
“There are a lot of different ways to do things, and the first year will be a chance for him to get more familiar as we go,” said Bothwell. “The things that we like to do that may be a little different than the way that he’s done some things in the past and he’ll undoubtedly have some suggestions to change the way we do things and we’ll look at those.”