Surprising Kotalik struts his stuff

Flames forward Ales Kotalik warms up a game at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary on March 19,...

Flames forward Ales Kotalik warms up a game at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary on March 19, 2010. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:07 PM ET

Two goals, two assists, one shootout winner in two games.

That's not the Ales Kotalik Calgary Flames fans saw last season when he arrived from the New York Rangers via the Olli Jokinen trade and struggled through 26 games.

In fact, you can excuse those who watched Kotalik manage just three goals and five points down the stretch of the dismal 2009-10 season for being a little shocked by the way he's performed through a pair of pre-season outings.

It helps the right winger insists he's out to disprove his critics.

"That's the attitude you have to have," he said after Sunday's off-ice workout. "It's not easy to come from a tough season and hearing all the things -- mostly from you guys -- like 'Is he capable to play in the NHL still? Is he good enough?' That drives you. You want to prove to everyone who lost that trust in you, that's wrong.

"There's no reason to think your NHL career is over after one tough year. A lot of guys have been through it. A lot of guys on this team had the same kind of season last year.

"We all want to prove something, I think when we get it together, we can have a good result as a team."

After last season, there was no shortage of Flames in need of a bounce-back season. The list can't be counted on one hand.

But Kotalik's play certainly came with the most questions -- especially since he has two years remaining on a contract worth US$3 million per season.

After a disappointing 45-game stint with the New York Rangers in which he collected eight goals and 22 points, he arrived in Calgary with a fresh slate, but you could see he had no confidence.

The spiral went further amidst all the criticism.

"He wasn't in the mind set you like to see a player in," said head coach Brent Sutter. "He's a very caring individual, and a very proud person, but he takes things to heart. When he goes through tough times, you have to be there to help him. As a staff, that's our responsibility.

"It's him believing in himself but know there's other around that believe in him, too."

During the summer, the four-time 20-goal scorer was put on waivers by a Flames team which reportedly had tried to trade him or find him a place in Europe to save the salary cap hit.

As much as it was an eye-opener nothing transpired, Kotalik arrived in Calgary with an attitude to turn around his game. Some conversations with the club's mental development coach, Dr. Dave Paskevich, have helped, too.

"Sometimes he sees thing differently and you have a conversation with him, and it helps on the ice," Kotalik said.

Still, the key for Kotalik is getting in his own head he can perform at the level of expectations.

"It always starts with yourself. It doesn't matter where it is, on the ice or off the ice. You try to find out reasons why it's not going well, and maybe I got stuck in that too much last year and wasn't able to do things I wanted," he said. "I feel really good, feel like the team is really good and I'm going to be happy to be a part of it."

Plus, the Flames still believe in him.

"When I had trust (of past coaches), I was a good player. Last year, I lost it in New York for whatever reason and the season didn't go the way I want it. I'm trying to get that trust back and hopefully I'm going to get it and play good," he said. "I have something to prove to myself. When those guys have the trust in you, it makes it easier."

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca twitter.com/RandySportak


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