Former teammates recall having their eyes opened to Kiprusoff’s sublime talents
Conroy admits he wasn’t so sure when the Flames landed San Jose’s third-string goalie, but he quickly came around
Craig Conroy, seen talking to the media after Jarome Iginla was traded, remembers the day when he was a player and the Flames acquiring a young goalie named Miikka Kiprusoff. “I remember saying to Darryl (Sutter), ‘I don’t know Miikka Kiprusoff.’ And he says: ‘Don’t worry about Miikka. He’ll be fine.’ ”
Photograph by: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald
Battered by injuries, the Calgary Flames reach out for a goalie that few have ever heard of.
So Craig Conroy, a curious sort, goes directly to the architect of the Nov. 16, 2003, transaction — to the man who has just sent a second-rounder to the San Jose Sharks for some Finnish guy.
“We were thinking we just got the third-string goalie from San Jose,” recalls Conroy. “I remember saying to Darryl (Sutter), ‘I don’t know Miikka Kiprusoff.’ And he says, ‘Don’t worry about Miikka. He’ll be fine.’ He knew. You know Darryl — he doesn’t say much. That was it.”
Sutter had crossed paths with Kiprusoff during his Sharks days. So there was familiarity.
“Darryl had an inside track,” says Conroy. “He knew him personally, had watched him in practice every day, saw what he did well.”
Soon enough, everyone saw what Kiprusoff did well.
“Even in practice,” says Conroy. “It would be a two-on-one drill, the puck slides over and you have an empty net, you shoot it and — wham! — he saves it. You’re like, ‘Where did he come from?’ Then you see the games and it’s, ‘Holy. This guy is good.’ But you don’t know how good because it’s only a few games, but then he kept doing it. Night in and night out, night in and night out, night in and night out.
“Then the playoffs came — all of a sudden, he was on another planet.”
A season culminating in a trip to the Stanley Cup final served as Kiprusoff’s introduction to the city.
Now it’s time — already — for his Saddledome swansong.
Nine years — and dozens of shutouts, hundreds of wins, thousands of saves, bushels of memories — after his Calgary arrival, everyone wants the same thing. For Kiprusoff, who starts Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings, to receive the farewell he deserves.
“Miikka’s been a good friend but also an unbelievable teammate, so it’s hard for me,” says Conroy. “I’d like to see him play the last two (home) games and be Miikka Kiprusoff, you know what I mean? If this is it, I would like to see two games where he puts on a show li e he always has . . . and then just have the fans say goodbye and thank you to Miikka. Through all the games, he’s been the one constant we’ve always had. If this is it, it’ll be a sad day in the history of the Calgary Flames.”
Adds goalie coach Clint Malarchuk: “I’m really hoping he’ll have a couple really great games, Kiprusoff-like games, here, to end the season. That’d be pretty special.”
And it is special.
No one can question that.
“The end of an era? Yeah, it would be,” says Martin Gelinas. “From 2004, he’s the last guy standing. He’s one of the best goalies this franchise has ever had. Maybe the team hasn’t equalled the success we had in 2004, but last few years he’s been incredible. He’s such a competitor, whenever he steps on the ice. Someone asked me last week about Jarome (Iginla), if I could remember one or two things about him. To me, I look at a career, not one or two things. And Kipper’s done a lot of good things. Made a lot of key saves at big times, the way Iggy scored a lot of key goals at big times.”
Malarchuk, officially, is the netminding tutor in these parts.
But it’s hard for him not to be a fan, too.
“To me he’s still one of the top five in the league,” Malarchuk says of Kiprusoff. “He’s that skilled. He’s such a fun guy to watch because he’s not your prototypical goalie nowadays. He’s kind of a hybrid. The closest guy would probably be Martin Brodeur. Just fun to watch.
“It’s been great working with him if he is done here. It’s been a lot of fun. A lot of giggles. People don’t know how funny he is. When you get to know him he’s really quite a dry-witted guy. Keeps you laughing.”
Conroy, standing in front of the dressing-room plaque commemorating Kiprusoff’s Vezina Trophy win in 2005-06, says the 36-year-old’s career is indeed worthy of recognition. But it’s also a bittersweet time.
“You celebrate it,” he says, “but it is sad.”
Conroy is asked how much a hearty ovation Wednesday would mean to the legendarily laid-back Kiprusoff.
“I think it would (mean a lot),” he says. “To say goodbye? I mean, he enjoys it here. He loves the city of Calgary. He didn’t want to go anywhere at the trade deadline. For everyone to be able to say goodbye when he’s here on the ice? This would be the one chance to say, ‘Hey, thanks for everything.’ And if this is it, he’ll be able to say, ‘I remember that last game. Boy, were they great. I’m so happy I was able to play for the Calgary Flames.’ ”
Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald