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ALL-TIME ALL-STARS - OTTO

He dominated at the faceoff dot, waged legendary battles with Mark Messier, and scored pivotal goal en route to Cup win

by GEORGE JOHNSON @NHLFlames / calgaryflames.com

They are the best of the best in Calgary Flames history.

Over 24 days we will profile our All-Time All-Stars (listed alphabetically at each position). Make sure to check back daily to see who's getting the nod.

May 8 - Theoren Fleury (RW)

May 9 - Jarome Iginla (RW)

May 10 - Hakan Loob (RW)

May 11 - Lanny McDonald (RW)

May 12 - Joey Mullen (RW)

May 13 - Doug Gilmour (C)

May 14 - Joe Nieuwendyk (C)

May 15 - Kent Nilsson (C)

May 16,17 - Centres

May 18-22 - Left-wingers

May 23-28 - Defencemen

May 29-31 - Goaltenders

Today, the under-rated Joel Otto, one of the best two-way players in franchise history.

 

In typically self-deprecating style, on the day he called it a day, Joel Otto couldn't for the life of him grasp why there'd be the slightest fuss.

"Guys like me ... we don't warrant retirement press conferences," he mused nearly two decades ago, back on Sept. 5, 1998. "Maybe somebody will be watching Hockey Night In Canada and say to his buddy: 'Gee, whatever happened to, you know, what's his name? ... Joel Otto?'

"And the other guy'll shrug and say: 'Good question. I don't know. Must've retired, I guess.'"

Ah, but all modesty aside, the big man from Bemidji, Minn., meant more, much more, to the big team in this town during its salad days than he's ever been willing to let on.

Others knew full well.

He was the one given the task of facing the wild bull of the northern pampas, Mark Messier, head on. Helmet-to-helmet. Draw-to-draw. Push-to-shove.

Although unfairly denied a Selke Trophy over the course of a 14-year career (athough twice nominated as a finalist), Otto indisputably went on to become one of the loop's top faceoff men and defensive players for going on a decade-and-a-half.

Every team with aspirations of grandeur needs a Joel Otto, particularly a team trying to derail a title-winning juggernaut armed with a slew of the finest players in the game's history.

Someone, after all, has to do the heavy lifting.

And never forget, without Otto's skate-glancing goal late in the first OT period of Game 7 in the first round of the '89 play downs against Vancouver, the most compelling single sporting moment in this town's history may never have happened.

Otto filled a void, a need, that was as vital as Joe Nieuwendyk's goals or Mike Vernon's saves.

Certainly no one could've forseen the value the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder would show, the impact he'd exert, when an afterthought media release tacked up on a bulletin board in the media lounge announced the free-agent signing of a hulking, rawboned free-agent NCAA Division II centreman out of Bemidji State.

At Otto's first camp someone handed him the kiss-of-death sweater No. 71. Better suited to a football linebacker.

Over a decade in the organization, he'd make 29 his own.

"Everything just fell into place for me,'' he recalled. "I was just incredibly lucky. Badger (Bob Johnson) was the coach, and he liked U.S. college kids, gave me a chance when a lot of other guys wouldn't have.

"The big centreman was just becoming popular then - Messier probably inspired that - and Calgary didn't have a lot of those type of players.

"In a way, he's responsible for me being in the league.

"I respected him. Did I like him? I'm sure he's a wonderful man but . . . well, there wasn't a lot of idle chit-chat between us.

"A few swear words, I guess."

On the Flames' career games-played list, Otto sits fifth, at 730. He ranks 11th in assists and third in PIM. Twice he topped the 20-goal barrier and five times exceeded 50 points.

Not too shabby for a gent whose forte was on the defensive side of the puck, at the face-off dot, in the physicality department.

And whose unique value warrants him a place among the franchise's elite.

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