Like many young hockey players in Finland, Joni Ortio
grew up as a fan of Miikka Kiprusoff
Hailing from Turku, the same hometown where Kiprusoff honed his netminding skills, Ortio chose to also become a goaltender.
“He’s been an idol for me for a long time,” said Ortio, who stopped 21 of 24 shots he faced in net for Team Finland during a 3-0 loss to Canada in a world junior pre-competition game at the Pengrowth Saddledome in preparation for the World Junior Championships which began on Boxing Day in Saskatchewan.
From what he’s seen of Ortio, Kiprusoff has been impressed with the 18-year-old prospect’s abilities.
“I’ve been able to see him the last few years,” said Kiprusoff, who trained with TPS Turku in the summer along with Ortio. “I was able to skate with the team there and he’s one of the goalies (in the Finnish Elite League team’s system). I’ve seen him practice and he’s working hard so that’s pretty nice.”
Ortio, drafted last June by the Calgary Flames, was humbled to hear that Kiprusoff had even taken notice of him.
“When that good of a player has something good to say about me, it’s really an honour,” he said.
While in Calgary, Ortio had the chance to talk with Flames assistant/goalie coach Jamie McLennan and even had a brief face-to-face meeting with his idol.
“I had a little chat with Kipper and that’s about it, just about how he’s doing and how am I doing,” said Ortio, who enjoyed getting the chance to practice on the same ice surface as Kiprusoff in the off-season. “It was great of course. I just tried to learn some of the moves that he does. I’ve been told that my style is a lot like Kipper’s, but nothing that much.”
As a sixth round (171st overall) pick of the Flames in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Ortio enjoyed the chance to play his first game at the ’Dome, albeit in a losing cause.
“It’s bad that we lost, but I think we put on a good effort and gave our best, so it’s good to move on,” said the 6-foot-1, 181-pound puckstopper. “It was a great experience to play in front of a lot of people. I was really excited before the game and it was nice to play here.”
As one of three netminders named to Finland’s preliminary roster, Ortio has tried to work hard to impress the coaching staff heading into the 2010 World Junior Hockey Championships, which began Boxing Day in Saskatoon and Regina.
“Because we have three goalies, you have to put in your best effort in every practice and every game if you hope to make the team,” Ortio said.
While he hopes to one day crack Calgary’s lineup and play for the Flames, Ortio will turn his full attention towards helping Finland fare well at the World Juniors.
“For now I’m just concentrating on the World Juniors and leaving that all in the future,” said Ortio, while adding that Finland has assembled a big and talented team to compete against the likes of Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic and Austria in Group B. “We’ve got a lot of big players on our team and we can be physical. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for us.”