Joel Otto knows a thing or two about quality Calgary Flames teams. He was a member of the franchise's only Stanley Cup championship in 1989 and was a rookie when the Flames reached the Cup Final in 1986.
Otto is now an assistant coach for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, who will be apart of the 2011 Tim Hortons Heritage Classic festivities when the Hitmen host the Regina Pats on Monday at McMahon Stadium. But spending a lot of time in Calgary has allowed to see first-hand the turnaround of the Flames.
The Flames were left for dead in late December after GM Darryl Sutter was fired with the team holding a 16-18-3 record. But the Flames are 13-4-5 since Jay Feaster took over and have climbed into the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.
"I've seen a few games. Me along with the rest of the city is excited they’re playing better for sure," Otto said. "They seem to be playing for each other. Certainly confidence, once you get on a roll, you're feeling good about yourself and confident with each other, little things seem easier to do."
The Flames will carry a 9-1-2 record in their last 12 games into Wednesday's showdown with the Dallas Stars, but Otto doesn't think it's fair to scapegoat Sutter and heap all the praise on Feaster for the Flames' resurgence.
"I think it's unfair to blame Darryl for this turnaround," Otto said. "Whether Jay has come in with a different attitude, that certainly helps. But as you watch on the outside, I don't know what goes on on the inside there, they seem to be enjoying each other."
Otto's main concern is making sure the Hitmen, who are in last place in the Central Division at 17-35-2-2, are focused on their current three-game road swing and not looking ahead to what will certainly be a special game at McMahon Stadium.
"I think there's been a little bit of buzz," Otto said. "We had our team pictures last week in the jerseys we're going to wear. There's been talk about what they'll have to wear underneath. I think with the road trip we had some big games. We're fighting for points and trying to get in the playoffs and we kind of put ourselves in a hole. Our focus has been more on that than the game itself. I'm sure once they get back, they'll be pretty pumped and excited to be apart of this weekend."