Johnson: Kiprusoff says his goodbyes in vintage, understated fashion
Flames goalie officially retires via press release, not standard farewell news conference
Miikka Kiprusoff, of the Calgary Flames, has confirmed a decision he made at the end of the last season to retire. He said he took the summer to be '100 per cent sure' that he wanted to leave. He has spent the last nine seasons with the Flames.
Photograph by: Getty Images Files, News Services
There was more chance of Salman Rushdie wandering the streets in plain sight immediately after publication of The Satanic Verses or mob snitch Sammy (The Bull) Gravano emerging from witness protection.
Anyone who figured Miikka Kiprusoff had any intention of booking a ballroom at the Westin hotel for a leaky-tear duct farewell, playing the easy-emotion card, sitting still for a lot of laudatory claptrap, clearly hadn’t spent near as much time down at the ol’ Saddledome for nine seasons as maybe they ought.
“It is quintessential Kipper,” agreed Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster. “It was difficult enough to get him to do these kind of things when we were paying him, and in theory as a player we had some leverage . . .”
As we’d all anticipated, with 2013 training camp in the offing, Miikka Kiprusoff officially announced his retirement via news release on Monday. Also as expected, he was nowhere in sight.
“I decided to retire at the end of last season,” said Kiprusoff in the press release. “I appreciated Jay Feaster and the Flames organization permitting me to take the summer to be 100 per cent sure. It’s an important decision for me personally, my family, the Flames organization and fans. Jay and I had conversations over the summer and nothing had changed for me and upon returning to Calgary last week, I once again spoke with Jay and confirmed with him that I would be retiring.
“I’ve been very lucky to have spent 10 years of my career in Calgary. There is no better place to live and play. I look forward to taking the next year with my family to enjoy everything wonderful about southern Alberta.”
And that was it. He made no public appearance.
“Where is he?” laughed Michael Cammalleri. “Fishing or something?”
No fuss. No fanfare.
“We talked about it,” continued Feaster. “We tried to help him understand why this would be important. His agent was totally onside. His agent said ‘You know, you need to go and meet the media and do this the right way.’
“But at the end of the day, well, you know Kipper.”
Yes, and no. Not really. Not even in hindsight. No more than we did back in 2003, really. Other than the fact, of course, that he ranks among the best of a generation.
Monday, Kiprusoff simply . . . disappeared into the mists of time.
Quietly, without so much as word.
Walked away without so much as a squeak of his shoes, despite the size of footprint he leaves. Much the same way, actually, that he’d arrived from San Jose all those years ago, projected as a backup Roman Turek.
“Typical Miikka,” mused full-time goaltending coach and part-time cowpoke Clint Malarchuk as the Flames’ annual alumni golf tournament luncheon swung into gear Monday. “Just got on his horse and rode off into the sunset.”
But what a sunset he left us, full of brilliant colours, eye-popping hues, of the vast possibilities the goaltending position could deliver. Of being unsighted, flat on his stomach and still swing his trailing leg to spectacularly knock a puck away from danger. Of flashing that glove, as quick as a kitten batting a ball of yarn, to pull a shot out of thin air, no different than David Copperfield making an audience gasp in awe and delight with the yank of a curtain.
Of making the sensational look sublime.
“If you look at the modern era,” said Cammalleri, “not many goaltenders have backstopped a franchise so consistently. Most teams out there have to worry about goaltending, getting guys in and out, who’s playing well. He was one of those rare guys you didn’t worry about. You just knew he was going to be consistent all the time.
“Just a lot of respect for him as an athlete and a competitor, for the body of work over his career. I wish him all the best in his retirement. A lot of fun playing with him, a lot of getting to know him as a friend. But you’ll hear a lot of that.
“For a lot of us, there’s probably a lot to learn about personal happiness, the way he goes about his business and his life. Whatever he’s doing, he’s enjoying it.”
As much as Calgary took to Kiprusoff, Kiprusoff took to Calgary. Even in retirement, he and his family plan on remaining in town for the time being.
“That’s what he talked to me about,” said Feaster. “He said they love it here, he and his wife. And obviously his oldest son is still in school.
“He made it clear when he started here he always thought when his career was over he would go back home. That was the plan. But he said, over time, they really like it here so they’re going to stay.”
Doubtless there will be a few media with their noses out of joint today, miffed that there’ll be no sound bites from Kiprusoff to air, no quotes to put in print, no pictures to run. They’ll argue that he “owed” as much to a city in which, yes, he was extremely well paid, and undoubtedly became a beloved public figure.
The great Spencer Tracy once said: “The only thing any actor owes his public is a good performance.”
That goes for any one-in-a-generation puck-stopper, too.
In the final analysis, what’s remembered, what lasts, is the work. Not the self-serving PR, not the outrageous witticisms, not the grip-and-grinning. And on so many, many nights, through so many seasons, Miikka Kiprusoff papered over so many cracks.
“He marched to the beat of his own drum,” said Feaster. “Honestly, he was quiet and reclusive in the room, too. When I would do the exit meetings, it was very, very difficult to get him to talk. But he didn’t miss anything. He was astute observer, understood that locker-room better than anybody.
“He was a guy who just went about his business.”
Would it be nice to hear a departing word or two from the greatest goaltender ever to don the silks? Most certainly. But that isn’t the man’s style. And he’s certainly not going to change merely to suit us, or the circumstance.
Undoubtedly the signature No. 34 will soon be hanging in the rafters of the Saddledome, beside those of Mike Vernon’s No. 30 and Lanny McDonald’s No. 9, and on that night he’ll be obliged to make one more public appearance (or maybe not, depending on his mood).
For now, though, we’ll simply make do with the final, indelible image that we have, that we’ll hold, of Miikka Kiprusoff: Taking a spin as the evening’s No. 1 star on an ice surface he dominated for nearly a decade after a 32-save, 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on April 20th, another season lost yet every one of the 19,239 paying customers in the building on their feet in tribute emptying their lungs with chants of “Kip-per! Kip-per! Kip-per!” one final time.
And, with the game puck in his glove, Kiprusoff, that familiar, shy, crooked little smile on his face, saluting the crowd with a slight acknowledging wave of his stick at centre ice.
As goodbyes go, surely that should be enough for anyone.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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