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Ortio ready to take the reins

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

LOS ANGELES, CA -- It has been over three months since Joni Ortio has started a game in a Calgary Flames jersey.

He started the season in Calgary, jockeying for ice time with veterans Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo and was limited to just four appearances before the team assigned him to the Stockton Heat of the American Hockey League on Nov. 26.

In Stockton, he got into 20 games, piercing together a 9-9-0 record with a 3.36 GAA and a .893 save percentage. His first few games with the Heat were rocky, allowing four goals in two of his first three outings.

As the time rolled along, he got back to into a rhythm and in the last seven games he played in Heat silks, he picked up four wins, and allowed two or fewer goals in four contests.

He was summoned back to the NHL earlier this month when Ramo's season was ended after he tore his ACL in San Jose. Since then, he has gotten into one game, relieving Jonas Hiller last week when the Flames hosted the Ducks.

Suffice to say, it hasn't been the smoothest of seasons for the netminder. But tonight he will get the nod in net when the Flames face off against the LA Kings at 8:30 PM MT (SN-Flames, FAN 960).

"I’m excited to play. It went pretty well last time so hopefully I can pick up right where I left off," he said after this morning's pre-game skate at the Staples Center.

"I think we established what the goal was with the move down to Stockton. I got a lot of games in and got my game back to where it belongs. I’m just looking forward to tonight."

Ortio enters the mix in the midst of a tough stretch for the Flames. They have lost four of their last five contests, sit 11 points back of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference, and are 14 points out of a playoff spot in the Pacific Division.

Top-notch goaltending will be crucial if the team wants to go on a run and make some noise in the West and the coaching staff are hoping Ortio can be a big part of that.

"Right now it’s one game at a time. Everyone knows our situation. We’re looking for wins. Hopefully he has a great game and he can carry on for many more," Bob Hartley stated.

"I think that we’ve shown him last year that it’s not about one start. Last year he had, what, five in a row? Goaltending, it’s about wins. It’s about stopping pucks. You need to start with one."

Not only is Ortio hoping to spark his team, he is out to prove his individual worth.

This season is a unique circumstance for the goaltender. He is in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer while Hiller and Ramo are unrestricted free agents come July 1. If he can turn this assignment with the Flames into a successful stint, it bodes well for both his short-term and long-term future with the organization.

"Now is my time to take the ball and run with it. The situation I’m in I just have to make the most of every opportunity I’m given so this is the first one tonight and I’m looking to do that."

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