Henrik Karlsson doesn’t have unrealistic expectations heading into his first campaign playing goal for the Calgary Flames.
Following a full season playing for Farjestad in the Swedish Elite League, the Flames acquired Karlsson’s rights from the San Jose Sharks on June 24, 2010, in exchange for Calgary’s sixth round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
“I’m happy to be here and to work hard,” Karlsson said. “I want to prove myself as much as I can and just do my best every day to prove that I’m a good goalie.”
Playing behind workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff, Karlsson will have to be on top of his game in order to get into game action with the Flames. He will play his second regular season game tonight against the New Jersey Devils, his first action on the road.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” said Karlsson of the unenviable role of being Kiprusoff’s backup. “It’s my first year, so I’m just going to try to get better and try to fight for as many games as possible. But, obviously, I know Miikka is an all-star goalie in this league. I’m going to do my best. I want to be on the ice, so we’ll see what happens.”
In 34 games with Farjestad last year, Karlsson compiled a respectable 2.45 goals-against average to go with a .914 save percentage and three shutouts. With his size, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound netminder believes he has what it takes to adapt his game to excel at the NHL level.
“Obviously, the players are more skilful here,” said the native of Tumba. “It’s the best league in the world, so I expect that things are going to go a little bit faster and I’ll adapt to the smaller rinks here. I have great confidence in my play. I hope it will fit me to play in these smaller rinks. I’m a pretty big guy, so I try to use my size as much as I can and just try to play as big as possible.”
After the Flames acquired and signed Karlsson, Assistant Coach Jamie McLennan took a trip overseas to visit both of the team’s Scandinavian netminders.<p>
“I went to see Kipper and I went to see Henrik, just to see how their progress was going,” McLennan said. “What you see is what you get with Henrik. He covers a lot of net and he really works hard. Right now, he’s just trying to adapt to a smaller rink and the pro lifestyle. The shooters are bigger, faster and stronger than he’s used to. It’s just an adjustment.”
It’s an adjustment that the Flames brass has confidence Karlsson can make quite easily.
“He’s a guy who has a lot of upside,” McLennan said. “That’s what was seen within the organization. We’re really looking forward to working with him and having him push forminutes in the net.”
Head Coach Brent Sutter also has high hopes that Karlsson will be able to give Kiprusoff more nights off this season.
“Expectations are that he can hopefully fill that hole,” said Sutter who would like to give Kiprusoff more rest in the regular season.
“Here we need to see if Karlsson can handle the load behind Kipper and we’ll go from there. That’s why he was signed—the projection is that he is going to be able to play. His performance has got to provide that. That’s what we’re looking at here. To me it’s about performance right through our lineup. It’s about everyone doing what’s necessary for them to be good players to help our team succeed.”
Having played behind Kiprusoff himself, McLennan believes that Karlsson has the right mindset to fill that backup role.
“He has a great temperament,” McLennan said. “You’ll notice a lot of Finnish and Swedish people have that relaxed temperament. He’s a fiery guy on the ice and competes hard, but his temperament is really nice. He’s a very laid-back guy. I’m happy about that, and I think he’ll adjust to the North American style of hockey very well.”
Kiprusoff remembers what it was like playing behind Evgeni Nabokov as a member of the Sharks before he became Calgary’s starting goaltender.
“It’s not an easy job,” Kiprusoff said. “I’ve been there, a long time ago now. It’s tough. The more you play, the better you feel. We’ll see what’s going to happen this year.”
Based on his first impression, Kiprusoff said he’s confident Karlsson is up to the task ahead of him. “He looks like he’s a pretty good goalie, so that’s good,” Kiprusoff said. “Whatever he needs, I’ll try to help him of course.”
Not knowing what to expect from Karlsson, Flames players found out just how skilled their new teammate is during training camp and the pre-season.
“He covers a lot of the net,” said defenceman Mark Giordano. “For a big guy, he surprised me with how quickly he was getting from side to side. He has made some big saves and has looked good. It’s exciting to see.”
From a young age, Karlsson knew right away that he wanted to play goal.
“I always liked it from the time I was really, really young playing street hockey,” he said. “I always knew that I was going to be a goalie.”
While his dad, Bjorn, was excited to take him out shopping for goalie gear, his mom, Lisbeth, wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“Coming home with goalie equipment, she wasn’t happy,” Karlsson recalled, “but she likes it now, and she really likes hockey also. It’s fun for my parents to have something to follow in the wintertime, to follow me playing hockey.”
Karlsson considers the day the Flames traded for his rights a new start for him.
“I came here really open-minded,” he said. “I’m going to work hard. Of course, like every player, you want to play, but this is my first year here so I’m just going to prove myself as much as I can to the players, to the staff and to show that I’m a good goalie. I’m just going to do my best.”This story first appeared in Blaze, the Calgary Flames official Magazine