Joel Otto, Elk and NHL alum, still hopeful league can salvage partial season

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Joel Otto, the Elk River native who played 14 years in the National Hockey League and won a Stanley Cup, was home for the holidays last week when the Star News spotted him at a basketball game asked him for his take on the NHL lockout.

Otto said he certainly didn’t have any answers, any more than any other fan, but acknowledged he felt bad for the guys, especially his two fellow ex-Elks, Paul Martin of the Penguins and Nate Prosser of the Wild, who have missed almost half a season along with the other 600 rostered players.

Joel Otto
Joel Otto

“It’s no fun for them,” said Otto. “They are hockey players, and this is time they will never get back. It’s no good for anybody.”

Otto has been there himself. There was a work stoppage in the 1994-95 season when he played for Calgary.

“That was very similar to right now,” he said. “We wound up playing a 42-game season, starting late January or early February.”

That’s why Otto thinks there’s still time to salvage a partial season.

“I thought I deal would have  been done by December,” said Otto, “but I still believe something is going to get done soon.”

The issue in 1994-95 was the salary cap which the owners wanted but never got. “A couple other issues, too, that I can’t even remember now,” he added.

Otto said he hasn’t taken sides.

“I understand owners, they have taken the risks and they have the right to expect some profits, and the players, things have been good for them, and they want to make sure they don’t get taken away what they have fought for in the past.”

Otto,  a strong defensive forward, played at Bemidji State, then spent 11 years with Calgary and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 1989, and finished with three seasons as a Philadelphia Flyer, retiring in 1998.

Living in Calgary, Otto, 52, said he does not follow the story in depth but you can’t help being inundated with coverage on the airwaves.

“The whole country, up north, they need their hockey,” he said. “But, unfortunately, people are finding other avenues (of entertainment). I think it’s going to be a big blow to the NHL. The die-hard fans will come back right away but it might take a while for some of the others.”

He felt bad, too, for the Wild fans, to be missing all the fun after signing two outstanding free agents, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, last summer.

“I live in Calgary and cheer for the Flames but I have the Wild at heart, too, and obviously they made a couple of big acquisitions.”