The Flames are holding their annual prospect camp this week at the Saddledome. For many players it is the realization of a dream: the first real opportunity to skate, as a pro, on home ice with a 'Flaming C' on their chest.
For Finnish goaltending prospect Joni Ortio
, realizing his dream is particularly special, as he gets to suit up for the same side as his hero, Miikka Kiprusoff
"We've known each other about two years," said Ortio. "Since I was a little kid I've been watching him play, to be drafted to the team that he plays for is a very big deal to me."
Ortio, who was drafted by the Flames in the sixth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, can attribute his opportunity in part to his idol, for it was through practicing with Kipprusoff that Ortio caught the eye of Flames goaltending coach Jamie McLennan.
"I went over to see Kipper last summer (in Finland) and we were on the ice," recalls McLennan. "Joni was out on the ice with us doing the drills. We were skating with some NHL players and Joni was standing right in there with him. I noticed, asked Kipper about him, did a little research, and kept an eye on him."
McLennan is very excited at Ortio's prospects, feeling that with a little time and patience, the sky is the limit for the young backstop.
"He's got a lot of potential. He's a good young goaltender, he needs to mature to become a better goaltender but he's got a lot of raw skill," said McLennan, who want to be sure to allow Ortio to develop at a comfortable pace.
"It's tough to put a window on goaltenders because some develop quicker than others. My biggest thing is seeing how he does against his peers here, and then he's going to go back to Finland and play at the highest level he can and hopefully get some games in the Finnish Elite League. I want to see him against NHL shooters but it may take a little bit to get him there. At the end of the day, he's got tremendous upside."
The prospect camp marks Ortio's first trip to Canada, and unfortunately his stay will be brief, as he is only in town for the prospect camp. Immediately following camp Ortio will be returning to Finland, where his team, TPS-Turku, is already preparing for their upcoming season. Taking part in a NHL training camp, as well as the brief glimpses of Canadian living he has seen while in Calgary, have been experiences he has thoroughly enjoyed so far.
"I'm so excited to be here and be in the middle of everything that is going on," said Ortio, "It's been great to come here, meet some new people, and get to know the guys."