Playing back home last year and playing almost (all the) games in that season really taught me how to compete and how to be consistent day-in and day-out. - Joni Ortio on his time with HIFK Helsinki
PENTICTON, BC -- As Joni Ortio walked off the ice after Friday's morning skate, he had his game face firmly in place.
He looked extraordinarily focused as he marched past the media, not even appearing to notice them as he made his way back to the Flames locker room at the South Okanagan Event Centre. In short, he was in the zone.
That kind of intense concentration and mental preparation definitely paid off later that evening.
Ortio was absolutely sensational in the Flames 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at the 2013 Young Stars Classic, making 39 saves in his first appearance in this year's tournament.
"After a long period of not playing a game, you never know what's going to happen. Fortunately, I got a couple of shots early on and got me into the game. It took care of itself then."
A couple of shots is putting it mildly. Ortio made 18 saves in the opening stanza, keeping the Canucks at bay while his team got their feet going. When asked if facing that number of shots - many of them being solid scoring opportunities - gets him into a groove, he chuckled.
"Sure, if you're stopping them. If they're going in, that's not good," he smiled. "When you get those shots early on, you stop thinking. You just go by your instincts and that's the best way to do it.
"I just went out there and tried to do my best, the way I can. Fortunately, it turned out good."
The 22 year-old has come a long way from his first Young Stars Classic appearance in 2011. With very little experience on North American ice, the Turku, FIN native struggled mightily at that tournament.
In his first game, the San Jose Sharks scored six goals on him and the netminder looked nervous. He looked a bit more comfortable in his second outing but the Flames ultimately fell 4-3 in overtime to Vancouver Canucks. In his third and final game at the 2011 Young Stars Classic, Ortio picked up his first win, a 4-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
Ward, who was behind the bench in the 2011, feels Ortio has made great strides since his 2011 tournament debut.
"Here's a kid who has come over here for a few years now and if you remember, it was a couple years ago, he got up lit up here pretty good," Ward remarked. "He's battled. He's went away, back overseas, and he's prepared. He looks like he's trying to make a statement that he's ready to play.
"I'm really happy for him."
Ortio credits his time with HIFK Helsinki in SM-liiga for the poise and maturity he has shown at this year's Young Stars Classic and at development camp. He played with 54 games with HIFK last season, posting a 2.42 GAA and a .917 save percentage. Taking on the starting role for the club accelerated his development and has given him more confidence heading into the 2013-14 campaign.
"Mostly it is the games I played last year. You can only develop to a certain point just practicing. You need the games. Games help you go forward.
"Playing back home last year and playing almost (all the) games in that season really taught me how to compete and how to be consistent day-in and day-out. I'm just trying to give the guys a chance to win every night and that is probably the biggest thing I took with me from back home."
In 2011-12, Ortio started the year in Abbotsford and wasn't able land the starting position with the Heat. He played just nine games before heading back to Finland to finish off the campaign with TPS Turku. Now, feeling much more prepared to make the jump overseas, he is looking to make an impact in North America. He wants to make the Flames brass life difficult by challenging for a spot in Calgary, giving them a difficult decision to make regarding their goaltenders.
"I want to be in that race for that spot up top. No doubt about it. But the only way to do it is to just play my best, compete every day and push for that spot."