Johnson: Flames’ youngsters marvel at Kiprusoff
Win-preserving save against Detroit on Wednesday had kids in awe
He may only be 20, an age when perspective and appreciation are nowhere near fully developed, but Sven Baertschi, bless him, understands the significance.
“I don’t take it for granted, that’s for sure,” says the centrepiece of The Next Wave, “being able to say you played with Miikka Kiprusoff, with Jarome Iginla.
“That’s special, for any young player. A dream.
“Those guys, they are where the rest of us want to be. But few of us will get to. They’re all-timers. So you watch, and you learn, while you can.”
Across the way, Miikka Kiprusoff had just finished the hardest part of his day, dealing with gentle probing from the Fifth Estate regarding his loose-lips-sink-ships retirement plans. With what is widely perceived to be his final appearance at the Scotiabank Saddledome set for tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, the talk is, naturally, all 34.
Not only the old fellers, the ones still around who remember, can appreciate what’s under discussion here.
The kids get it, too.
Wednesday, Kiprusoff was kind enough to take everyone back on a lovely nostalgia trip. To 2004, when he piggybacked a patchwork crew ruled by a tyrannical skipper to unimagined heights. To 2006, when he was indisputably hockey’s best goalie, the Vezina and Jennings recipient.
That audacious theft off JaKub Kindl, flashing the leather to snare an iron-clad-guarantee tying goal from the Detroit Red Wings’ defenceman with 16.6 seconds left on the scoreclock, still had the Flames’ room buzzing 18 or so hours later.
“That last save he made last night? Unbelievable,” murmurs Roman Horak, grinning at the recollection. “He was kinda like ‘It’s going to go there. No problem. I got it.’ And he made that save for the people.”
As if he just reached up and snatched lightning down from the sky.
“So great to see him back. Growing up in Czech (Republic), of course I’d heard of him, what a great goalie he was, but I knew him more from being with the Finnish national team.
“He’s still one of the best goalies in the NHL. And the best goalie here ever, right? It’s a pleasure to play with him.”
Max Reinhart, growing up in B.C., knew all about No. 34 and his domestic poaching. Kiprusoff’s antics, after all, helped oust his favourite team, the Vancouver Canucks, in the opening round of the 2004 playoffs, the first, significant step in Calgary’s mind-boggling march to the Stanley Cup final that spring.
“Yeah,” sighs Reinhart, whose stall is on the other side of the dressing room door, maybe eight feet away, from Kiprusoff’s, “I watched a lot of games of his growing up. Quite a few players in here, actually. When I was cheering for the Canucks, he was a real thorn in their side. Sure I remember 2004, the West Coast Express with Naslund and all those guys and how it turned out. That one hurt.
“Then you see a game like last night from him, years later, that save he made at the end, and the way the crowd reacted . . .
“I got to see live what I used to watch on TV back in the day.”
On its day, the 2013 Kiprusoff model, an out-of-sorts, month-injured model, can still deliver the goods. As the Red Wings learned to their peril Wednesday.
“I was amazed by the way he played,” marvels Baertschi. “And that last save . . . I was closing my eyes, thinking the worst, then I heard the crowd go crazy. And you kind of go ‘Miikka . . .’ He just flicked his glove and there it is. Not many goalies can make that save.
“It’s huge for me, for any young guy, to come in here and be in the room with him, with Jarome (Iginla). When I first came up here last year it was a gift. Being able to be around these guys, guys who’ve achieved so much in their careers, is a huge present for me.
“It was good to sit beside Iggy at the start of (this) season. He wouldn’t get that goal right away, then when he gets it, he just goes crazy and scores another 30.
“Those guys, Jarome, Kipper, you study them, how they handle themselves, how they do things. They’re the standard. On the ice, (Kiprusoff)’s incredible. Even in practice. He makes my life so hard in practice. He’s been the biggest part of this team for quite a while.”
As time marches relentless on, even the biggest parts are replaced. That’s just the way of the world. Inevitable.
A prideful man, Kiprusoff doesn’t want to just hang on, wondering when his number might be called.
“If he’s done, he’s done,” reasons Baertschi. “But it seems crazy, you know, because he’s got so much left in him. He still has so much to offer.”
But what if tonight is, in fact, the final curtain call for Miikka Kiprusoff in Calgary. What can he possibly do to top that 36-stop slapdown of Pavel, Z and the rest of the Wings on Wednesday? What could he possibly conjure up to match that game-saving heist off Kindl?
“I don’t know,” the 20-year-old centrepiece of The Next Wave replies. “But I can’t wait to find out.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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