Flames players line up to talk about how much Kiprusoff has meant to the team
Hard to list a favourite save from franchise goalie
A single save. One of 15,518 in his career.
But it says so much. And you know which one it is.
A Saturday night in San Jose, the Sharks’ grinders are pressing. Manny Malhotra takes a couple of cracks at loose pucks. Then, to the right of the crease, appears Scott Nichol, who chops a rebound over the fallen netminder.
A sure goal — on anyone else. But Miikka Kiprusoff, flat on his belly, kicks it out of harm’s way — with his left heel.
Only overhead cameras can do the sequence justice. Kiprusoff’s handiwork provokes a video review, possibly out of admiration.
Minutes after the Dec. 5, 2009, game, Dustin Boyd declares it the “save of the century.” Adds Daymond Langkow: “Unreal. I don’t know how he even saw it. He was on his stomach. Obviously, a huge save there. The highlight reel.”
Olli Jokinen, too, wants to talk about the Calgary Flames’ star netminder: “He’s unbelievable. He’s been our best player pretty much every single night. Same story tonight. He made big saves in the first period, second period, third period.”
But Kiprusoff? Well, you know.
Shrug. Sigh. A few words.
“Tough to control,” he mutters, “but I tried it and it worked out this time . . . I was pretty happy.”
As for the significance of that particular stop (beyond the obvious)?
It’s a shining example of what the Flames — from the top of the organization’s flow chart to the bottom — will tell you: it is Kiprusoff’s off-the-chart drive that has made him the goaltender he is.
The likes of whom the Flames — or their fans — may never see again. Wednesday could mark his final appearance on Saddledome ice. The man is worthy of your applause.
Because rare is the puck that Kiprusoff abandons.
“His compete level, first and foremost, is what really stands out to me,” says Chris Butler. “He refuses to quit on any play, whether we’re getting blown out or it’s a tight game. He makes the kinds of saves that have us, as defencemen, thanking him often. He does things that you don’t think are possible.”
Ask Kyle Wellwood.
Then a member of the Vancouver Canucks, Wellwood is standing near a wide-open cage. Kiprusoff isn’t merely on the far side of the crease, he’s well beyond the net. So when the puck skitters to a cocked Wellwood, well, it’s over — except the Flames goalie lunges to his right and, stretching, conks the puck out of mid-air with the paddle of his stick.
Cory Sarich happened to be on the ice for that bit of brilliance, Feb. 17, 2009.
“He just wants what’s best for the team,” Sarich says of Kiprusoff. “He’s always been that — a team-first guy. Being as prominent a player as he is, that’s a really great quality to have.”
According to Lee Stempniak, Kiprusoff’s ability to somehow think like a forward is the key to his splendid career.
“He’s got a bit of a scoring mentality,” says Stempniak. “He’s able to get into players’ heads as they’re shooting. He beats a pass before it gets to the other side (of the net) because he anticipates the play really well. That’s the big thing — he reads the play extremely well. As an opposing player, it was always a challenge to shoot on him.”
Belying that intense on-ice mindset is his off-ice demeanour.
Sarich refers to Kiprusoff’s “normality.” Sure, the dude may chuck his pads into the sauna to soften them up before home dates. Beyond that? A regular guy. Low-maintenance, even. He lets the equipment guys tape his sticks, for goodness sake.
“He’s very normal by what I judge normal to be . . . for people in general,” says Sarich. “And for a goalie? Extra normal. A great sense of humour. A funny, funny man, which I enjoy. He’s always making me laugh. He’s a happy guy. Real easy to get along with.
“He knows how a team should function. Kipper is a leader, just with his ability to do what he does in the net — his effort when he’s out there. That’s one thing that rubs off on guys. He may not be vocally a leader, but as a competitor, he’s one of the best I’ve played with.”
Not surprisingly, Kiprusoff’s teammates appreciate the heroics — “Without him last year,” says Butler, “we would have been in a world of hurt” — and are keen to see their man receive a rousing send-off this week.
“How can you not be supportive?” says Sarich. “What more do you want out of a guy?”
Adds Stempniak: “He’s meant so much to the team. For so many years, you thought of Jarome (Iginla) and Kipper as the two guys that were the Flames.”
Now, Iginla has moved on to greener (playoff) pastures. And Kiprusoff, it would appear, is barely a week away from retirement.
Life without No. 34 is soon going to be a reality.
“It would definitely be weird,” says Sarich. “It would be a huge change. You’re so used to Miikka Kiprusoff never being injured, to playing every single game. Definitely, it would be a huge hole if he were not here next year.”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
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