Familiar formula for Flames: Banking on Kiprusoff
Expect Calgary to ride workhorse goaltender for most of shortened season
When it comes down to it, the Calgary Flames hockey club is a business like any other with objectives and milestones planned in advance of every season.
This time around Jay Feaster can look forward to a sit-down with his superiors — as opposed to dreading it — on the subject of the workload for one Miikka Kiprusoff.
“For the first time ever,” the general manager says, with a distinct hint of glee. “I’m going to be able to go and tell (owner) Murray Edwards that I achieved it — that Kipper will not play 70 this year.”
In what has become an annual rite of passage in these parts, the coach and/or GM pledges on the eve of training camp to not force the meal-ticket goaltender into shouldering such a massive workload.
In what has also become an annual rite of passage in these parts, Kiprusoff finds himself slinking out the back door on garbage-bag day with 70-plus games on the chassis amid questions about his perceived fatigue down the stretch.
Thanks to the latest NHL lockout, the 2013 regular season is expected to open Jan 19 with only 48 games on the docket.
“Yeah, it’s going to be different,” the unflappable Finn said Monday, catching his breath after skating lines at WinSport. “You know it’s a shorter season. You’ll have to be ready from the start, because you don’t know.
“If you have a hot start, it’s going to help you big time for the end.”
Don’t expect to see any of the so-called experts, especially outside of the 403-area-code, to give Calgary much of a chance of qualifying for the post-season. In fact, Bodog.ca lists the odds of the Flames winning the Stanley Cup at 50-1.
According to the betting website, the New York Islanders (66-1) and Columbus Blue Jackets (100-1) are the only teams with slimmer chances of hoisting hockey’s Holy Grail come June (or July?).
The wild card in this equation? Well, Kiprusoff, of course. If he gets hot for a prolonged period — especially out of the gates — well, who knows what could happen?
“It’s time now to push even harder to get ready,” Kiprusoff said. “Because we don’t have much time to when we start.
“It’s a shorter season. So if you have a bad start, there’s less time to catch up. But that wasn’t our plan anyway, to have a bad start.”
Unlike other members of the goaltending fraternity, Kiprusoff had no desire to play during the lockout in Europe. His son, Aaro, attends Grade 2 in the Calgary area, so family came first.
As a part-owner of Turku TPS of the Finnish Elite League, Kiprusoff clearly had a place to go if the season had been cancelled all together.
Or did he?
“My team didn’t want to sign me,” he said. “They have good goalies there. We have (Antero) Niittymaki who used to play in Philly.
“They didn’t want me.”
Not that it matters now. Once again, Kiprusoff is being called upon to vault the Flames over the hump into the Western Conference playoffs.
Age, however, could eventually prove a factor one of these seasons with Kiprusoff turning 36 during the lockout.
“I feel all right, actually,” he said, not even trying to stickhandle around the age question. “I think I feel the same as I did years back, but I don’t see myself. You’ll have to tell me, because you saw me skating. I think I looked all right there.”
In truth, he looked mighty winded — but the same can be said for many of his teammates skating without cumbersome goalie equipment.
“Kipper has obviously been great all along here,” said defenceman Mark Giordano. “If he’s not the best goalie in the league, I think he’s in the top three.
“The good thing with Kipper is that he’ll get to play fewer games than he has in the past. Game in, game out, he’s usually our best player.”
And so let the debate begin: how many games does Kiprusoff play this season? Or, better put, how many nights off does he need to remain upright with either Henrik Karlsson or Leland Irving waiting in the wings to fill in?
“This is the topic we always talk about in training camp,” he sighed, before replying with a stock answer. “I feel I’m ready to play them all. I feel I’m ready to play half, whatever is best for the team and whatever the coaches think.
“But again, same old, one game at a time. Try to be sharp and earn the spot to play the next game.”
Uh, yeah right.
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