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'I'M SUPER EXCITED'

Big Save Dave pumped to sign two-year deal; eager to meet Talbot and form duo in Flames' net

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

Back then, the stress of it all was unlike anything he'd ever experienced.

"Oh man," sighed David Rittich, looking back on his contract negotiations one year ago. "I had my wedding and my arbitration date scheduled for the same day.

"I was like, 'What?! No. No, no no.'

"I almost died.

"Thankfully we got it sorted out before then. But still… same week.

"Now? Much easier. Much more fun. And I'm actually at a family member's wedding this time, so it's funny how things work out."

Precisely one year after signing a show-me deal and launching a breakout campaign, Rittich and the Flames renewed their partnership for the next two years, with the fun-loving puck-stopper earning $2.75M per annum on the new pact.

The deal avoids an arbitration hearing slated for Monday, and buys one year of Rittich's UFA eligibility.

"I'm super excited," Rittich said. "I love it in Calgary. The organization gave me a chance to become a goalie in this league, and now I'm hoping to re-pay them with my play.

"To get it done before arbitration is even better. No one wants to go through that."

'Big Save Dave' appeared in 45 games last year, stringing together a 27-9-5 record, a .911 save percentage, 2.61 goals-against average, and one shutout.

 

Video: CGY@VGK: Rittich makes blocker save on Smith

 

He pried the top job from Night 1 starter Mike Smith with a white-hot fall, but was nursing a knee injury in the back half of the campaign, allowing Smith to re-assume the No. 1 role in time for the playoffs.

Rittich, though, is back healthy - and hungry - now after serving as the backup down the stretch and into the spring dance, even declining an invite to tend goal for the Czech Republic at the IIHF World Hockey Championship to properly mend his troubled hinge.

"I feel great on the ice, I feel great in the gym," Rittich said. "Everything's perfect.

"Even dealing with that injury, last year - all the good times and the bad - was big for me.

"But it can always be better, and that's been my focus here during the off-season.

"Going into this year, I know I have a pretty good chance of being the No. 1 goalie. That's a big deal. A lot of pressure, maybe. But last year taught me so much about myself and now, I've never been more ready to show what I'm capable of."

The Flames feel the same.

"If you were to chart his development path, you'd get a straight line, due north, ever since he arrived in our organization," said general manager Brad Treliving. "We believe in David. We've seen what he's capable of already, and the fact that he hasn't even hit his full potential yet speaks to the kind of athlete we're dealing with.

"Is he entering a bit of new territory this year, with the so-called starter's role up for the grabs? Yes, you could definitely make that argument.

"But we don't want him to change anything or to put any extra pressure on himself.

"We want David to be David."

 

Video: CGY@WPG: Rittich stretches to deny Little

 

Pushing him in the process will be a new partner - an equally ravenous ally having arrived in the Stampede City on equivalent financial terms.

For both Rittich and newcomer Cam Talbot, the Flames have only $5.5M locked up in a duo that is likely to share a good chunk of the workload.

While Rittich says he will miss the now-37-year-old Smith, as a friend, and for the way the veteran helped in his development over the years, he feels the fresh blood is a boon for both sides.

"I haven't met him yet," Rittich said of his new partner, "but I've heard amazing things about him. I spoke to some of the Czech guys who've played with him before. "I hear he's a great guy, great goalie. Can't ask for more in a partner.

"It's going to be a great situation, us pushing each other."

Gone are the days of the 'starter' and 'backup' roles being labelled that way, without dispute.

'Tandems' are part of the new age, and considering the density of the schedule these days, along with the healthy number of back-to-backs (with feverish, late-night travel included), having a pair in the blue paint is a benefit for all.

"Unless your name is Price, Rinne or Vasilevskiy, I really believe our league is going - or has already gone - that way," Treliving said. "It's a shared position now, especially in the West.

"That doesn't mean that one guy can't grab the reins and give us longer stretches at a time, but you have to feel comfortable with both guys at any given time.

"To have both David and Cam locked up, we feel good about our goaltending going into the season."

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