Kipper happy kids get chance to shine

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:39 PM ET

Posted in Miikka Kiprusoff's locker-room stall is a picture.

Two youngsters are on the ice, a player bearing down on a pre-teen netminder.

Seeing as Kiprusoff's son is not yet four years old, it's a curious item for him to have in such an important place.

"A little kid came in and signed a picture for me. It's pretty cool," Kiprusoff said.

The next couple of games, it's likely Kiprusoff will see more than enough youngsters on the ice in front of him, too.

Dion Phaneuf's status for tonight's game against the Edmonton Oilers appears up in the air. Considering Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich, Mark Giordano and Rhett Warrener are all on the shelf, the Flames are looking at a young blueline brigade for their critical home-and-home set.

Calgary could ice a lineup that will include three veterans on defence -- Adrian Aucoin, Jordan Leopold and Jim Vandermeer -- and a trio of rookies, Adam Pardy, Matt Pelech and John Negrin.

It puts more pressure on the goaltender, although Kiprusoff said he didn't see it that way.

"I try not to do anything extra, just do my job," he insisted. "I think it's more about the guys getting their chances. Somebody has to play more and take a bigger role. I think it's more a challenge for those guys."

Challenge is a nice way to put it. Pelech will play his fourth NHL game tonight and Negrin's lone NHL game is the only one he's played as a pro.

Ten days ago, Negrin was skating in the seventh game of the WHL's opening-round playoff series between the Swift Current Broncos and the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Kiprusoff said those youngsters don't force him to do anything differently. He doesn't freeze the puck more often or make more passes.

"Those guys, if they've been in this organization, they know what we try to do and the system we play, so I don't think about it," Kiprusoff said.

Although so many eyes will be closely watching how the young defencemen fare, Kiprusoff's performance will also be under the microscope.

When the Flames were a dozen points ahead of the Northwest Division pack, it was expected Kiprusoff would be taking a breather about this time. Instead, he's expected to play in his 76th contest.

Whether he plays tomorrow, too, is likely dependent on whether the Flames have clinched the Northwest title. If they do, Curtis McElhinney would play tomorrow night's regular-season finale.

"I think I'm starting (tonight)," Kiprusoff said with a wry grin.

"We'll see after that. After the game, you can ask me the question."

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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