Following big footsteps

Joni Ortio was onhand at the Saddledome taking part in a prospects training camp on Sunday. (Sun...

Joni Ortio was onhand at the Saddledome taking part in a prospects training camp on Sunday. (Sun Media/Randy Sportak)

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

For two days, Joni Ortio has been hanging around with the Calgary Flames' other European prospects.

However, all of them are from Sweden. Ortio, the netminder drafted last month, is from Finland.

You want to talk about rivalries? Finland and Sweden had it's share of battles over the years. Fortunately, no hatred has carried over.

"They're taking care of me," Ortio said of the Swedish crew led by Mikael Backlund. "I'm just annoyed they're speaking Swedish all the time because I don't get it. I understand some words here and there but not enough to know what they're talking about."

Starting today, Ortio won't have any fellow Finns around, but he will have others from the goaltender union when the Flames prospect camp begins at the Saddledome.

A total of 27 players, including their last five first-round draft choices, will take to the ice this afternoon for the six-day camp.

For Ortio and the handful of others drafted this year -- Tim Erixon, Ryan Howse, Henrik Bjorklund, Spencer Bennett and Gaelan Patterson -- it's their first chance to connect with their new organization.

However, Ortio already has an important contact in his cellphone's address book, fellow netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, who tipped the Flames organization about the youngster.

Calgary's No.-1 goalie and Ortio have known each other for the past few years. Ortio, 18, plays in the Turku organization, where Kiprusoff started his career en route to NHL stardom.

"In Turko, he's a big deal. The people in Turko are really proud of him," Ortio said. "I just talked to him a few days ago. He was asking how I was doing."

Kiprusoff also gave him a heads-up on what to expect in Calgary in the coming days, as well as what it's like to be a part of the Flames organization.

You know full well Ortio has thought about some day playing on a team with Kiprusoff.

"To be drafted to a team he plays for is a big deal," said the netminder chosen in the sixth round, 171st overall. "Since I was a little kid, I've been watching him play. He is a big deal for me.

"I'm kind of the same type (of goalie) as he is, play the same style, not all butterfly, but not a stand-up goalie. Somewhere in between."

The similarities probably won't end there.

Ortio is nearly as tall as Kiprusoff and with a similar build. More importantly, he'll also be coached this year in Finland by the legendary Urpo Ylonen, who had a big hand in guiding Kiprusoff to the NHL.

"He's awesome," Ortio said of Ylonen. "I was pretty excited to get to work with him next season. We'll see what happens."

Which is the attitude the netminder will have for the next while.

He's been on a whirlwind the past few weeks, having been drafted and then preparing to come to Calgary soon after.

"Very exciting to meet new people and see what's here. The big world," he said while using his hands for quotation marks. "It's a great experience and helps me continue my work.

"It's a momentum boost and a confidence boost to be here."

After the coming week, though, things are up in the air.

Ortio has high hopes of claiming a spot on the Turku team in the SM-liiga.

"I think I've got a pretty good chance playing there. If not, there's the chance to go to the 'B' league and have some men's games to look forward to the Under-20 tournament."

Although, he suddenly found himself with another option when the Swift Current Broncos selected him in the CHL's import draft a few weeks ago, a day after he was asked about being interested in coming to Canada if chosen by the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

"I said, 'I wanted to stay in Finland another year, finish my school and develop as a goalie. We'll see after next year,' " he said. "Then Swift Current drafted me. I haven't even talked with them, don't know if they have no idea I won't be going there."


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