Olympics for Kip? Owe yes

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff is well within his right to say, "Heck no, I won't go."

It's his prerogative to beg off a trip to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games for Finland's hockey squad if he's not going to be the No.-1 netminder.

But it's really disappointing.

The Flames netminder deserves kudos for speaking the truth this week about not wanting to suit up in Vancouver if he's not the starter. Most, if not all, players in his position would speak platitudes about such a scenario and quietly come up with an excuse at crunch time. He's taking a lot of heat back home for even suggesting he won't play at the Olympics again.

However, Kiprusoff owes it to his country to compete in Vancouver, even if it means mainly sitting on the bench with a ball cap instead of blocking shots against the greatest players in the world.

It was the Finnish program that developed him to the point he's at today -- making millions of dollars annually playing a game -- by taking him to tournaments as a junior player.

(Hey, this is from somebody who was at the game when he backstopped Finland to an improbable 3-3 tie with Sweden at the Saddledome during the 1995 world junior tournament, which clinched gold for Canada.)

Too often, players forget their roots, what impact they can have on future generations and what made them who they are today.

Don't for a second think people from Hockey Canada don't notice how few Flames over the years went from a disappointing regular season without playoffs or a first-round exit to World Championship tournaments overseas.

Too often, those in Calgary have backed out when they could have taken members of their families to Europe and battled for gold.

The way he's played this season, Kiprusoff deserves to be the No.-1 goalie for Finland when the Olympic tournament begins. Compare him to the other candidates: Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom, Toronto's Vesa Toskala, Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Tampa Bay's Antero Niittymaki.

Sure, Niittymaki took Finland to silver with an amazing performance in 2006 -- 1.34 goals-against average and .951 save percentage in eight games -- but Kiprusoff is still the standard for his country.

He'll likely give Finland the best chance and should know whether he starts on the bench, he could still be the man to carry the team to a medal. Plus, all Kiprusoff has today he owes to a game that wants him more than ever.

Flaming C-notes

Peter Maher, the Flames play-by-play voice, likes to point out the second quarter of the season is when you really have a read on a team. At the 40-game mark, we'll sure have a clear idea about the Flames this year. Following their tough six-game trip, it's a steady stream of home games through the New Year's Eve match against the Oilers. They'll ring in 2010 with exactly 40 games under their belt ... The more the Flames powerplay struggles, the more you can't help but wonder whether they should have kept Anton Stralman in the fold. Never thought that would be a feeling two months ago, but the defenceman traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets has more points than any Flames blueliner. Stralman is also a minus-9, which wouldn't wash here.

Hockey talky

Steven Stamkos deserves to be on Canada's Olympic team before Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Vincent Lecavalier, no question ... Speaking of Canada's Olympic team, the powers that be have to consider bringing Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley of the San Jose Sharks as a line. That's a trio which can provide the goals Canada didn't have in 2006 ... Washington star Alex Ovechkin deserves a suspension for his hit on Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta Wednesday night. That play was charging -- which Ovechkin does as often as players like Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu -- on a player in an exposed position who had already moved the puck. If it had been the other way, the calls for Kaleta's head would be ringing out ... The Vancouver Canucks had best make hay the next two months, while they're somewhat healthy and have so many home games. If they don't pull close to the division leaders by the end of January, it'll be tough when they have 14 straight road games Jan. 30 through March 10 ... Interesting theory how the Chicago Blackhawks will cope with the salary cap next season: Send overpaid goalie Cristobal Huet through re-entry waivers in the hopes another team will take half of his US$5.625-million cap hit and try to win the way Detroit went after it most years, loading up on offensive talent and hoping your cheap goaltending is good enough. The way the Blackhawks ran roughshod through Western Canada and then destroyed San Jose 7-2 to start on their latest trip, you can't help but think it'll work.

You don't say

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA

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FARM REPORT

What's going on in Abbotsford

It's not fair to say offence from Riley Armstrong would be completely unexpected.

The Abbotsford Heat forward scored 25 goals last season for AHL Worcester.

However, he wasn't pegged to be a top gun.

Armstrong has three goals in the last two games -- including a pair in Wednesday night's 6-2 romp over the Peoria Rivermen. Armstrong has four goals on the season.

Between the pipes, Leland Irving continues to be strong and is doing what he can to knock on the NHL door sooner than later. Irving has nine of the team's 11 wins, while compiling a 2.47 goals-against average and .919 save percentage.

The Heat are in Chicago tonight, in Rockford tomorrow and in Toronto for a Tuesday clash that ends a four-game road trip.


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