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Fellow Finns hoping to make NHL debuts

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

I’m just trying to take it day-by-day, one day at a time. You only get one first game in the NHL, but on the other hand, it’s just one hockey game.Joni Ortio

CALGARY, AB -- An injury to one Finn may give another the chance to play in his first career National Hockey League game.

After being recalled six days ago from the Abbotsford Heat, goaltender Joni Ortio could make first first NHL appearance as early as Thursday when the Flames host the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Saddledome.

“There’s no guarantee I’m going to play that game,” Ortio said. “I’m just trying to take it day-by-day, one day at a time. You only get one first game in the NHL, but on the other hand, it’s just one hockey game. I don’t think there’s any reason to make too big a deal about it.”

Ortio’s opportunity could come in place of Karri Ramo, who has yet to resume skating after sustaining a lower body injury in Calgary’s 4-3 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 1st. The 22-year-old has been practicing in Calgary since practice resumed after the Olympic break.

It’s given Ortio plenty of time to adjust to NHL shooters and prepare for a possible start between the pipes.

“It helps me big time,” he said. “These two weeks practicing with the guys, it helps a lot. I don’t think the speed is that much different from the AHL, but the skill set and the guys’ releases are so much quicker. It’s been huge having the practice time with the guys.”

Coach Bob Hartley has no hesitation in giving the rookie netminder a shot, either.

“I would feel very comfortable giving Joni a start,” said Hartley, who has yet to decide on a goaltender for Thursday. “He’s been great in Abbotsford for us. You look at him practice. Hey, he came from Finland to play in the NHL and if we have a chance to put him in there, we will.”

Ortio is 20-6-0 with the Heat this season. His 2.22 goals against average is sixth-best in the American Hockey League while his .926 save percentage trails only former Calgary Hitmen goaltender Martin Jones.

He might not be the only Finn to mark his NHL debut soon, either.

With Brian McGrattan and Curtis Glencross nursing injuries and Lee Stempniak away from the club due to personal reasons, the Flames recalled Markus Granlund on Monday.

Suiting up against the Kings isn’t out of the question for the Heat’s leading scorer.

“I'm excited,” said Granlund, whose 23 goals are fifth-best in the AHL. “Next game is Thursday and I don't know, maybe I'm playing, maybe I'm not. I don't know yet.”

It’s the second time Granlund has been recalled this season. He was also summoned in late December but did not see game action.

Ortio said it was nice having his “son” with him in Calgary.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Ortio said. “He’s done a great job down there in Abby. He’s been lights out down there so I’m really happy for him.”

In his first season of professional hockey in North America, Granlund has been a standout. The 20-year-old sits 15th overall in AHL scoring with 44 points in 50 games. That total places him third among rookies, too, while his 23 goals are tops among first-year players.

“I just tried to work hard and I think I've been playing pretty good,” Granlund said. “You always want to score but (I'm) maybe a little surprised.”

Granlund’s adjustment hasn’t surprised Ortio, though.

“He never loses his linemates,” he said. “He always knows where they’re at. When he gets his chance to play with better players up here, that’s going to make him even better and he can make his linemates better, too. He makes everyone look good on the ice.”

Much like the call on Ortio, Hartley said he has yet to determine whether or not Granlund will see his first NHL action on Thursday.

“Grans has been one of our top players in Abby,” he said. “He fully deserves being here. Tomorrow we’re going to revisit our injury list and we’re going to make the final decisions tomorrow or Thursday morning.”

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