Flames goalies geared up for battle to replace Miikka Kiprusoff
One of the most intriguing competitions to watch will be which one of the five netminders distinguishes themselves
Modest by nature and easygoing to the core, Joey MacDonald insists this National Hockey League training camp is just like any other.
His off-season was no different.
And nothing has changed with his mindset or preparations even though, for the first time since the fall of 2005-06, there is competition for the starting goaltending position with the Calgary Flames.
“You don’t want to put a whole lot of extra pressure on yourself,” said the 33-year-old, shrugging, on Wednesday as the Flames reported for medicals and fitness testing at the University of Calgary. “I’m a veteran. I’ve been around the game for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of goaltenders come and go and (the approach) has worked for me.”
Keep in mind, this isn’t MacDonald’s first rodeo. Including the Flames, who picked him up in February as an emergency replacement for an injured Kiprusoff, the Pictou, N.S., native has worn the sweaters of five different NHL outfits. More often times than not, he’s been part of their American Hockey League plans, spending most of his career as a journeyman goaltender. MacDonald has attended camps with Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood, fully knowing his place in the hierarchy.
Which was once the way it was in Calgary with Kiprusoff as the undisputed No. 1 and the backbone of the team. But that’s not the case this fall.
Starting Thursday, the on-ice portion of the Flames goaltending battle begins between MacDonald, Karri Ramo, Reto Berra, and prospects Laurent Brossoit and Joni Ortio.
“You know what, it’s exciting,” said MacDonald, who had an 8-9-1 record with a goals-against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .902 in the 2013 lockout-shortened season. “There’s a couple of other young guys that are going to be battling for the same spot.
“Once you start putting pressure on yourself, that’s when things don’t go your way. I go into camp every single year, battling for the No. 1 spot. It didn’t matter if it was Hasek or Osgood. I was going to give them all (a challenge).”
Ramo, 27, will get a hard look based on his previous NHL resume which includes 48 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning between 2006 and 2009. Jay Feaster had drafted him in the sixth round in the 2004 draft when he was with the Lightning and acquired him in the same deal that saw Michael Cammalleri returning to Calgary.
As a fellow Finland native, Ramo always looked up to Kiprusoff and understood what he meant to the franchise.
However, to him, this camp would have been no different if Kiprusoff wouldn’t have retired earlier this week.
“I don’t think it’s any different from any other camps I’ve been to or any other year,” said Rammo who has been in the KHL with Russia since 2009-10. “You always have to be your best and when you stop a lot of pucks, you’re going to play. That’s the same thing right now.
“It would have been the same thing with Kipper, it doesn’t change.”
Then there’s Berra, 26, who is adjusting to the NHL-sized ice after years of playing in the Swiss league. The six-foot-four, 194-pounder arrived two weeks ago to acclimatize himself with the different angles produced by the smaller surface.
“But I like it,” he said. “We had 2006 World Juniors in Vancouver and I felt pretty good there. For a goalie it’s nice you probably get more shots than in Europe because everything is closer to the net. I like that, to have a lot of shots.
“In camp, we will see (about net presence). I’ve been here two weeks but we’ve had little scrimmages but without hard traffic. But for sure as a goalie you have to find a way to see that puck.’’
Goaltending is one of the main topics of conversation heading into the 2013-14 season.
For the players, too.
“Obviously, you’re never going to replace Kipper,” said blueliner Mark Giordano who will also be responsible for what happens in the Flames’ end of the ice. “He was, in our opinion, one of the best in the league and years before. It’s going to be interesting to see Karri and Reto in a game. I’ve skated with them, they look really good in practice.
“I think it’s going to be a battle in net, right from camp. I mean, it’s there for any of those guys to be our goalie. Hopefully, they all do well.”
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New Calgary Flames goalie Karri Ramo, right, seen hanging out with Mark Giordano during fitness testing at the University of Calgary on Wednesday is one of a few candidates to take over the No. 1 netminding job this season.
Photograph by: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald