by Mike Board
Miikka Kiprusoff never really figured he would become a goaltender. For that, he has to thank his older brother, Marko, who pushed his younger brother into the net during shinny outings in their hometown of Turku, Finland.
“My brother always said ‘Get in net. It will be awesome’. I didn’t really want to go there but…”
Flames Career Shutouts
|Seasons ||Goalie ||Shutouts || |
|03-04,05-07 ||Miikka Kiprusoff ||21 |
|72-81 ||Dan Bouchard ||20 |
|82-94,00-02 ||Mike Vernon ||13 |
|01-04 ||Roman Turek ||12 |
|98-99, 99-01 ||Fred Brathwaite ||11 |
|72-78 ||Phil Myre ||11 |
No ifs, ands or buts about it, being a goaltender, reluctant or accidental to begin with, has turned out to be the right call for Kiprusoff, the Calgary Flames outstanding puck-stopper who set a franchise record for shutouts with a 1-0 shootout win Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild.
For the record, he stopped 40 shots, including two in the shootout to record his 21st blanking as a Flame, surpassing Dan Bouchard.
"I'm sure glad he was on our team," chuckled defenceman Robyn Regehr of Kiprusoff.
Let’s see, a run to the Stanley Cup final in his first season in the NHL as a legitimate No. 1 goalie; a Vezina and Jennings Trophy winner in his second season as the Flames starter; current holder of most wins by a Flame goalie in a season (42) and most shutouts in a season (10), most shutouts in a career (21) and surely more records on the way.
This from a relatively unknown player who arrived in Calgary via a trade with San Jose, who picked Kiprusoff in the fifth round of the 1995 Entry Draft. Kiprusoff had dressed for exactly 42 NHL games when he arrived in Calgary on September 16, 2003. He would play 38 games for the Flames during the rest of the regular season and another 26 in the playoffs. To this day he remembers his first start in Calgary, a 2-1 win over Montreal, ironically the team that drafted his older brother.
“I remember the first game. It was against Toronto. Jamie McLennan was in net. I was on the bench as the back-up. I knew I would get into the next game. But I was nervous,” recalled Kiprusoff.
Nervous? The guy referred to as the iceman, the cool cucumber, the guy who seems unflappable no matter the situation on the ice. Nervous?
“Yeah, I was,” says Kiprusoff. “But we played well that game and we won. It was a nice way to start things here, with a win.”
Within a few short weeks it became evident that Kiprusoff was the real deal. His lightning quick glove hand; his uncanny flexibility; his calm demeanor and his knack for making the big save at the right time instilled confidence in the Flames, who surged into the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.
“The first thing that stood out in practice was the athleticism of Miikka Kiprusoff,” says David Marcoux, the Flames goaltending coach. “Everything I threw at him, reaction drills, puck skills, whatever, he excelled at.”
You can’t mention Kiprusoff’s athleticism without noting his flexibility, that ability to spread his legs in the splits across the goalmouth.
“That’s always something I have been able to do. But now I am getting older so I have to work a lot harder at it,” says the 30-year-old Kiprusoff with a grin.
That entails up to three hours of stretching on a Flames game day. Kiprusoff will stretch at home or in the hotel prior to heading to the arena, then at the arena prior to the morning skate, again before the game and again after the game.
“Long after the game, when most people are gone from the rink, Miikka is still there, stretching out,” notes Marcoux.
“He works at it. Some people are naturally flexible and he is one of those people. But he really dedicated to it. We all have personal routines to get ready for games and that kind of stuff but he is second to none. People maybe don’t realize how professional he is,” says McLennan, the Flames back-up and a good friend of Kiprusoff.
Added Marcoux: “He’s got the Ferrari, but you still have to do the maintenance.”
A quiet type in the public eye, Kiprusoff is more at ease around his teammates. “He is a pot stirrer. He just doesn’t like to take credit for it,” says captain Jarome Iginla.
Iginla recalls Kiprusoff arriving in Calgary and not knowing what to expect from the goaltender. “Then you start playing against him in practice and you realize he is really good.
“And then you watch him in games. He makes so many game-saving saves and you realize that that is just Kipper. That’s the way he plays. But it’s not a surprise because he works so hard.”
In practice, in games and off the ice, Kiprusoff is a hard worker, fitting nicely into the Flames identity of a hard-working team. Off the ice there’s the stretching, the video and the mental training he works on with Marcoux.
“His attention to detail and his ability to focus is outstanding,” says Marcoux. “He is not just puck-focused. He’s able to find players out there on the ice and know what they are doing.”
So, does the coach see his student get rattled or upset?
“He has his moments but we work on mental training all the time. On the ice though, he doesn’t want to show the opposition anything. But like any competitor, he has his moments. His goal every single night is to the Calgary Flames a legitimate chance to win the game. He loves to be a big part of the Flames,” says Marcoux.
At home Kiprusoff spends time with fiancée and young son, Aaro, who is 19-months old and his Bull Mastiff, Reiska. When he watches television at night, he isn’t a coach potato. He is, you guessed it, stretching and getting mentally prepared for the next game.
“Miikka is a perfectionist,” notes Marcoux.
The relationship between he and McLennan, which began the moment he arrived in Calgary is both personal and professional. McLennan and he talk constantly about shooters’ habits, teams systems and what to expect.
“I know how it is to be a back-up,” says Kiprusoff, recalling his days in San Jose. “I respect that and what Jamie is doing right now. It is not easy to work with someone who is playing lots of games. But he is great. He is a great guy in the room. He has been a long time in the league and he knows the players so he helps me a lot.”
“We’re close friends. He is an elite goaltender. He is a quality person. It’s a lifelong friendship,” says McLennan of his goalie partner.
A friendship both hope leads to Stanley Cup. For despite being named the top goalie in the league last season, there is another prize that Kiprusoff seeks.
“The Vezina Trophy was huge. It is the biggest prize a goalie can get. Of course you want to win a Stanley Cup as a team. The Vezina will be something to feel good about when I am done playing. Mostly hockey is a team game. The biggest thing I want here in Calgary is to win the Stanley Cup.”