April 12th, 2024

Emotional Kiprusoff honoured to see Flames retire his number

By Darren Haynes, The Canadian Press on March 1, 2024.

Calgary Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, from Finland, takes to the ice for his 500th NHL game during first period NHL hockey action against the St Louis Blues in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY – Twenty years after unceremoniously arriving in Calgary only to backstop the Flames to an unexpected playoff berth and improbable run to the 2004 Stanley Cup final, Miikka Kiprusoff will have his number retired on Saturday night.

“It’s a great honour and I know they’re going to have a great show,” Kiprusoff said Friday when the former star goaltender met with the media. “To see the jersey go up, I’ll try not to cry, but we’ll see.”

It was on Nov. 16, 2003, when an injury to No. 1 goaltender Roman Turek prompted then-Flames coach and general manager Darryl Sutter to trade a second-round draft pick to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for the 27-year-old Finn.

At the time, Kiprusoff was stuck behind Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala on the Sharks’ depth chart. Soon, he would be atop the Flames depth chart as he went 24-10-4 with a team-record 1.69 goals-against average and .933 save percentage to get Calgary into the playoffs.

From there, the Flames upset the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks, and took Tampa Bay to Game 7 of the final before losing 2-1.

“It was a great team, I noticed right away. The room was full of great guys, not just great players,” said Kiprusoff. “For me, it was a second chance. Things started going well, so for me, the whole year was unbelievable and of course, the whole run, too.”

Kiprusoff lives year-round in Finland and his return visits to Calgary have been infrequent, although he admits that’s something he might need to change after reconnecting this week with former teammates.

“It’s so great to see them. I always think I should come back more often because it’s always good times. Great to see the boys. I think I’ll come back next time a little faster than five years.”

Kiprusoff says he enjoys spending time at home with his family. But he said it’s great seeing two of his old teammates working for the Flames organization in Craig Conroy, general manager, and Jarome Iginla, special adviser to the GM.

“Connie, he’s a smart hockey guy, and Iggy’s a great guy with him there. I would love to go and listen to their conversations.”

Saturday’s ceremony starts 90 minutes before the Flames game against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. Kiprusoff’s No. 34 will join Lanny McDonald’s No. 9, Jarome Iginla’s No. 12, and Mike Vernon’s No. 30 in the Saddledome rafters.

Kiprusoff, who played nine seasons for the Flames, is the franchise’s all-time leader in wins (305), shutouts (41), goals-against average (2.46) and save percentage (. 913).

A lanky 6-foot-1 as a player, Kiprusoff was known for his flexibility and acrobatic playing style with his scorpion save, kicking up his skate while lying on his belly to deny a goal, one of his hallmark stops.

He was also renowned for being a workhorse. He started more than 70 games for six consecutive regular seasons including back-to-back years in which he made 76 starts.

“When I came here, I was excited,” said Kiprusoff. “I talked to Darryl (Sutter), and he said if you play well, you’re going to get games so you better be ready and for me, it was unreal. New chance and it worked out well.”

The key to playing that much was establishing a routine.

“When you play a lot, for me it was hard to manage because you want to practise to stay on top of your game, and then you need the rest, so I was always balancing that. But I just got into a routine into what was good for my body and my head.”

For context, the last NHL goaltender to start more than 70 games was Cam Talbot (73) in 2016-17 and only three goalies have started more than 70 times in the last dozen years.

“I like to play a lot, but we had plans those seasons for me to play less, but when a team’s fighting for a playoff spot, you need the wins, so it’s pretty easy to change that plan.”

Asked what he hopes people will remember about him when they look up decades from now and see the No. 34 jersey.

“I’m a team guy. To me, it’s my jersey going up there, but I think it’s our team’s time. It’s not my moment (on Saturday), it’s for the guys that I played with and who helped me out a lot.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2024.

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