Most teams have to worry about goaltending, and get guys in and out and see who is playing well. Miikka was one of those rare guys in modern day where I don’t think you have to worry about him, you knew he was going to be consistent all the time. - Mike Cammalleri
CALGARY, AB -- It’s a day that Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster had been expecting for a while now – the official retirement of franchise goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
“Kipper”, as Flames fans affectionately knew him, leaves the game as the franchise leader wins (305), games played (576) and shutouts (41).
During last season, as the Flames debated trading the netminder to a Stanley Cup contender, Kiprusoff made his intentions quite clear.
“At the trade deadline, Kipper was pretty specific that he didn’t want to go anywhere, he wanted to finish his career here and he felt that this would be his last year,” Feaster said during the Calgary Flames Celebrity Charity Golf Classic luncheon on Monday.
The departure of Kiprusoff, who has been the backbone of the Flames since arriving in 2003, leaves a gaping hole in net. However, Feaster feels he’s been prepared for this day to eventually come.
“That’s why we did the trade to acquire (Karri) Ramo, that’s why we did the trade to acquire (Reto) Berra,” Feaster said. “That’s why we made it a point to sign those guys because we knew unless he had a change of heart, the 2013 season would be his last.”
Kiprusoff, 36, burst onto the Flames scene back in 2003. A backup netminder for the San Jose Sharks at the time, he was traded to Calgary for a second round draft choice. He took over the starting role in Cowtown, and finished the 2003-04 season regular season with a modern day NHL record GAA of 1.69. From there, he backstopped the Flames to a Cinderalla playoff run that finished one game short of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup victory.
Feaster was the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team that won the Stanley Cup that year, and saw firsthand the Finnish netminder’s brilliance.
“I wasn’t here and can’t speak to the Mike Vernon days but having been a manager in the NHL, first as a manager of a team that played against him in the finals, then to have the opportunity to watch him every game, he was one of the best in the game as far as I’m concerned,” Feaster said.
After the run, Kiprusoff never slowed down, playing upwards of 70 games season after season, racking up the wins, great stats and Vezina trophy nominations.
“Most teams have to worry about goaltending, and get guys in and out and see who is playing well,” said Flames forward Mike Cammalleri. “Miikka was one of those rare guys in modern day where I don’t think you have to worry about him, you knew he was going to be consistent all the time.
Feaster added, “It was night after night that his brilliance gave the team a chance to win. I think he made players around him better, he gave players the opportunity to find their game, get into their game because he was backstopping us and keeping us in them.”
To those on the outside of the organization, Kiprusoff was described as a “recluse” shying away from the spotlight – an image he kept right up until the day he retired.
“I talked to Kipper a lot, and I talked to his agent a lot about the need to do this right, let’s do it at the Saddledome, let’s bring the media in, let’s give them the opportunity to talk to you,” Feaster said. “It was hard enough to get Kipper to do those things when we were paying him and in theory as his employer, we had some leverage.
“Certainly this decision doesn’t surprise me,” Feaster added with a laugh, alluding to Kiprusoff’s decision to retire quietly.
To those inside the dressing room though, Kiprusoff was “full of personality.”
“Miikka was a quiet guy, pretty reserved that way but when you got to know him, sat next to him on the plane, went out to dinner with him, he was full of personality and a real fun person to be around. I enjoyed calling him a friend,” said Cammalleri, a teammate for parts of three seasons.
Kiprusoff would conclude his illustrious career with 319 wins, a 2.49 GAA, 44 shutouts and a .912 save percentage.
Now the native of Turku, Finland will step away completely from the spotlight he usually shied away from, although he does plan to live in Calgary for the time being.
“They love it here, him and his wife,” Feaster said. “He said ‘It’s amazing, I’ve been discovering things that I didn’t know existed.’ I’m not sure how long that plan is, but obviously his oldest son is in school so he made it clear.
“He said when he started here, he always thought that when his career was over, he would go back home (Finland), that was always the plan. Over time, they really liked here so they are going to stay.”