Johnson: Kipper to take his time on retirement decision
Post-game ovation draws emotion out of stoic goalie
He sure knows how to make an exit.
As endings go, maybe not quite up there with Bogart and Claude Rains strolling into the Casablanca fog at the “beginning of a beautiful friendship”as The End flashes up on the screen in unbeatable black-and-white, but for here, for now, it’ll do.
We wondered what Miikka Kiprusoff would, could do, for an encore after his 36-save heroics had taken down the playoff-desperate Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.
The answer: Another showstopper.
With chants of “Kip-PER! Kip-PER!” echoing around the Scotiabank Saddledome and Harvey the Hound down on his paying homage at the conclusion, Kiprusoff didn’t disappoint, his 33 saves enough to hold off the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 in Calgary’s final home date of another disappointing campaign.
“Yeah, it was a little bit (emotional),’’ admitted Kiprusoff, expected to announce his retirement at season’s close with one year left on his current contract. “After First Star, I had to come quickly out. It was an unbelieveable feeling.
“You look at some other Canadian cities and it can be a tough time for goalies. The crowd can be tough for them. But I’ve been lucky. I’ve a feeling they’re always behind me and that’s huge for a goalie.’’
At game’s end, before the rest of his teammates gathered near centre to salute the crowd, they waited for Kiprusoff to bask in the applause, acknowledge the adulation, alone.
Apropos, for such a singular talent.
“That was really nice. I told them ‘You’re not giving me any options after that.’ It was a nice last game ...’’ Pause. “... of the season.’’
If ever there was a tip-off that this was, indeed, it, owner Murray Edwards was busy taking keepsake snapshots of a young fan beaming beside No. 34 as the media mob squeezed through the dressing room door like toothpaste coming out of a tube, each and every one in search of Kiprusoff.
“I felt good,’’ said Kiprusoff of his performance. “That team, it’s not easy. They have a lot of skill.’’
When asked if any of his pals had been hard at work campaigning the 36-year-old to return for one final season, Kiprusoff shook his head.
“No, actually they want me to go.’’
Yeah. Sure. As if.
“Ah, they know I’m not going to talk about it much. They’ve been nice that way.’’
Still, this night had the distinct feel of farewell about it. Goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk was dabbing wet eyes with a handkerchief as he spoke of the two seasons he’s spent tutoring the flexible Finn.
“I LOVE watching him,’’ murmurred Malarchuk. “I LOVE working with him. For me, he’s the best. The very best. I said he was still Top 5 in the league? Tonight, he’s Top 1. Last game, he’s Top 1.
“My hero. I’m so proud of the guy.
“So I’m a little misty about it. Yeah, I am. I’m a goalie, he’s a goalie, okay? If I had his talent ... his talent and my personality? I’d be a frickin’ movie star. It’s been a tough year for him, but these last two games he brought his level up to the top. The very top. He’s still The Mystery. Not to me. Not to people who know him a bit. To everybody else, though. That’s why he where he wears a mask. And it’s fitting. The Mystery. He doesn’t give up anything unless you’re in his inner circle.
“And that’s a very small circle.’’
Nothing’s been made official, as Kiprusoff himself keeps repeating. But all indications are, and the vibes anyone speaking to the man himself gets, that he’s made the call in his heart. Maybe a two-year extension here, or elsewhere, could get him to change his mind.
But he seems to be someone who’s made peace with calling it a career.
“A lot depends on how his body’s feeling,’’ said Malarchuk. “I will tell you, again, the lockout kills the older guys. They get playing again and it’s like ‘This (bleep) hurts! It really hurts!’ Hey, they don’t mind picking up the kids after school, sitting on the couch, then they come back, they’re in the grind day-to-day, and, brother, it hurts. That’s my philosophy about lockouts.
“What’s he gonna do?
“I think I’m pretty close to Kip, but even me, I’m not sure.’’
Retire. Return. The only thing you wish for the man is that he’s 100 per cent certain when he does make the call. That he isn’t guessing. He knows. That there’ll be no regrets, no drawn-out post-quit angst.
“I’ve been doing for a living for a long time,’’ said Kiprusoff reflectively. “Even before I came over here I played in Europe. That’s been my life. Nothing else. It takes lots from you. I have no plans.
“It’s been a pretty rough season. But I want to take my time, think, and make sure I’m making the right call.’’
If that was, as expected, Miikka Kiprusoff’s final curtain call to this city, he did his legacy and himself proud. He came within a whisker, 3:41 left on the scoreclock, of the perfect ending, of regular-season career shutout No. 45.
That’s the only thing that would’ve made the evening sweeter.
So, damn that Corey Perry!
Kiprusoff smiled at that.
“Yeah,’’ he laughed. “Exactly.’’
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald