SUN Hockey Pool

Call-up Kotalik impresses

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:18 AM ET

It was a nifty audition by anyone’s standards.

But for Ales Kotalik, in particular, it must’ve felt like a career night.

No, not in terms of goals and assists as the embattled 32-year-old picked up one of each to be the game’s third star.

But given the fact it was the first act of what’s likely his final curtain call in the NHL, it was as big as they get.

Clearing waivers Wednesday to help out with a thin, injury-depleted parent club, the Abbotsford Heat’s priciest player suited up for a Flames club that had all but given up on the $3 million man.

By virtue of a good attitude and 19 points in 18 AHL games, the man with the gifted size and shot is getting one last look before the inevitable buyout this summer.

But give the three-time 20-goal scorer credit — it appears he’s not willing to go without showing the type of fight his game has been so sorely missing for years.

An assist in the first period followed by a goal in the third capped off a tidy little evening alongside Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman on a third unit heretofore known as Darryl’s Duds.

While that may be harsh, all three are admittedly overpaid acquisitions by the former GM, all of whom have spent evenings this year as healthy scratches.

Last night, they were anything but.

While Kotalik’s ample time on the powerplay was fruitless, he acquitted himself well on a night the Flames absolutely needed the win.

Oh sure, his goal made the score 4-1 midway through the third and his assist was one of those throw-in jobbies in a 5-2 win over Colorado.

But the bottom line is that once he saw Hagman’s centring pass get through the defender he barely broke stride as he charged the net to bang in the fourth of his 21-game NHL season.

While the crowd shook the building and many pointed in disbelief, Kotalik appeared to take it all in stride with a calm embrace of his teammates.

“It feels good obviously,” said Kotalik whose goal more than made up for the golden opportunity squandered early in the second period when he walked in alone and lifted his shot not just over the net but over the glass.

“You don’t expect these type of things will happen to you in your career. But you be a professional athlete and try to learn from the experience. Being mad or frustrated in Abbotsford wouldn’t do anybody any good. Obviously, the playing time helped me. I feel better and try to bring it up here and I was glad I was able to contribute.”

Acquired as an expensive throw-in with Chris Higgins on the deal that sent Olli Jokinen to the Rangers with Brandon Prust on Feb. 1, 2010, the frustratingly inconsistent Kotalik was in tough here by virtue of his heavy price tag, which included two more years of service at the time.

Finishing poorly with five points in 26 outings last year, management surprised many by opting to give Kotalik a training camp looksie instead of buying him out.

A solid camp ended with an injury and he never got on track upon his return.

Thus, the demotion.

His somewhat surprising return comes at a time when the Flames forward ranks need help and few believe he’s the tonic.

Last night he was.

“You know it was a reward to him,” said Alex Tanguay of Kotalik’s callup and 13 minutes of ice time.

“What he’s been through has been extremely difficult on him but for him to do these things show the kind of dedication and the effort he put in in the minors. He played great for us. We know he’s capable of scoring big goals for us. With the injury bug we’re going to need him to play like that.”

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis

Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada


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