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Flames Top-10 individual seasons: Number 5

by George Johnson / Calgary Flames

Joe Nieuwendyk’s silky-soft set of mitts. Miikka Kiprusoff’s utter aplomb in the face of a tempest. Theo Fleury’s in-your-face indomitability.

From Kent Nilsson to Johnny Gaudreau, Lanny McDonald to Sean Monahan, Al MacInnis to T.J. Brodie, Joe Mullen to Jarome Iginla, over the course of over three and a half decades in this town, there have been no end of stellar turns in aid of the Flaming C cause.

So wrestling selection a Top-10 individual seasons is a chore. Many factors come into play.

Historical ramification. Sheer volume. Significance to the organization.

You’re spoiled for choice, naturally.

Some are non-negotiable.

Others calls are hellish.

The very fine Calder Trophy-calibre campaigns of Gary Suter and Sergei Makarov are absent, for instance. A sprinkling of stellar 50-goal and/or 100-point performances, as well.

More regrettable yet is the omission of the prolific yet edgy 53-goal (second highest seasonal total in franchise history), 207-PIM 1991-92 turn put in by truculent left winger Gary Roberts. A season as dynamic as this could’ve slipped in anywhere in the bottom half of the Top 10 without a word of complaint, and on many such lists would’ve.

But, well, competition being what it is …

Here, then, over the next 10 days, is one list of the 10 Calgary Flames’ seasons to most savour, that best stand the test of time, presented in descending order:

No. 5, Miikka Kiprusoff, G, 2005-2006.

74 GP, 4,380 Mins, 42-20-11 W-L, 2.07 GAA, .923 save percentage, Vezina Trophy, William M. Jennings Trophy, First Team NHL All Star.

Colorado Avalanche defenceman Rob Blake arguably came closest to describing the phenomenon.

“I don't think he gets in our heads so much,'' reasoned the future Hall of Famer back in April of 2006, “as he gets in theirs.

“With him back there, they believe anything is possible.’’

Such was the influence, the magnificence, of Miikka.

Through the majority of his Calgary Flames’ career, and 2005-2006 in particular, Miikka Kiprusoff played like a living, breathing, puck-repelling All State Insurance ad.

In good hands?

Only the best possible.

On an offensively-talented team, he represented the final, seemingly-impenetrable defensive fortification; the tightrope walker’s safety net.

Simply the best goaltender anywhere to be found on the planet (Martin Brodeur backers notwithstanding).

So clinically efficient, so consistently spectacular, that the crowd at the Saddledome that spring began chanting “MVP! MVP! MVP!” at each succeeding Kiprusoff save through the closing stages of the regular season.

In terms of audacious thefts, Danny Ocean -- Sinatra or Clooney, pick your cool -- and his crew had nothing on the shy Finn.

Small wonder former Flames’ goaltending coach David Marcoux nicknamed his protege The Repairman.

"Whatever needed fixing,’’ explained Marcoux, “Miikka fixed it.’’

So the Hart Trophy debate that spring began narrowing to Joe Thornton, in his first season at San Jose, the NY Rangers’ Jaromir Jagr … and Kiprusoff.

The wording of the award ''... to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team'' left a convincing argument for any of the three.

While Jumbo Joe and Jagr, Rogers Sportsnet analyst John Garrett -- admittedly a trifle biased, being a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the goaltenders’ union, both past and present -- was only too happy to throw his full support behind a lodge brother.

“Kiprusoff affects the games more directly than either Thornton or Jagr and that's why he should be MVP,'' Garrett argued. ''How many laughers has he had this year? Two? Every game he's in is tight, and he's the difference-maker in virtually all of them.

''Why is Jagr so much better than he has been the last few years? The five Czechs in New York. Why has Thornton been so dominant offensively since getting to San Jose? Jonathan Cheechoo's 50-whatever goals has a lot to do with it. With Calgary, it all comes down to one guy. You can say it's the system or the defence, but goaltending is such an individual position.

''People talk about a starting goaltender being the same as the quarterback in football or the ace of a pitching staff. But the pitcher only takes the hill once every four days and the quarterback has a defence that keeps him off the field half the game.

''Five-on-five the Flames score less goals than almost every other team in the league, yet they won arguably the toughest division in hockey.

“Why?

“I'll give you one guess.’’

The man had a case.

Consider the evidence:

*A then club record 42 regular-season wins (the team as a whole won 46), surpassing the 39 of Mike Vernon in ’87-88 - which Kiprusoff himself would eclipse with 45 in 2008-2009.

*A tidy 2.07 goals-against average.

*Pitched a league-pacesetting 10 shutouts.

*Boasted a .923 save percentage.

*Logged 4,379 minutes.

Still, when the ice chips had been swept aside and the votes tabulated, Kiprusoff finished third in Hart balloting. Meaning he’d just have to make do with the Vezina Trophy, as the loop’s best at the position, to go along with the William Jennings Trophy.

MVP or not, though, it marked the finest regular season ever put in by a Calgary Flames goaltender.

Typically, the International (read: Finnish) Man of Mystery shunned the limelight. In fact, he was nearly 4,700 miles away, in his homeland and unavailable when the hardware was being doled out in Vancouver.

GM-coach Darryl Sutter was on hand accepted Kiprusoff’s historic haul on his behalf.

“That,’’ laughs ex-teammate Craig Conroy, “was just Kipper.

“I got to play with Fuhrsie (Grant Fuhr) and he was the only other goalie that seems oblivious to anything that happened, good or bad.

“Nothing bothered, nothing affected, those guys. Give up a bad one? ’Sorry about that guys, get that one back and I’ll shut the door here the rest of the way. Thanks.’ That was their mentality.

“Being in Calgary … we’re on the later games, not as many people watching, not the biggest market, Kipper went under the radar a little bit. And under the radar was where he liked to be.

“But it was great to see him recognized that season, on that level, giving him his due for being the goalie he was.

“He had a lot of great seasons in this organization.”

Never better than in ’05-06.

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