Kiprusoff — Sutter's legacy lives on

Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff makes a save against the Devils at the Scotiabank Saddledome in...

Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff makes a save against the Devils at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Jan. 10, 2012. (DARREN MAKOWICHUK/QMI Agency)

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:45 PM ET

CALGARY - Miikka Kiprusoff wasn’t yet a hockey household name.

He was third on the depth chart, waiting for a break, watching the years and window of opportunity pass him by.

Then, Darryl Sutter swung the deal that sprung him from San Jose and brought the Finn to the Calgary Flames.

The trade to bring the goaltender to the Stampede City was easily the former Flames GM’s best move while with the club. It helped turn the franchise into a playoff contender. It was Kiprusoff who gave the Flames a shot at the Stanley Cup that same season after joining the team in November of 2003 as a 27-year-old who had 47 NHL appearances to his name during three years with the San Jose Sharks.

And as grateful as the Flames organization is to have Kiprusoff — who is still very much an elite goaltender — the 35-year-old is pretty thankful he was given the opportunity by the man he will try to beat Thursday night when the Flames take on Sutter’s Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center.

“It was pretty tough in San Jose,” said Kiprusoff, who signed a new contract that summer but was stuck behind Evgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala on the Sharks depth chart. “I knew going into camp that’s why they signed me there to a one-year deal — they wanted to trade me.

“I was just waiting for that to happen.”

When it did, on Nov. 16, 2003, Kiprusoff knew his opportunity had arrived and that he had to make the best of it.

“It was great for me. Darryl knew me from San Jose. He believed in me. He gave me a chance,” Kiprusoff said Wednesday in a dark hallway after meetings at the Staples Center. “When I came over, he played me right away and gave me a chance.

“I was stuck in San Jose. I knew if I got a chance, I would have to have to use it. He believed in me. It was huge for me.

“It was the turning point in my career here in the NHL.”

Actually, it was just the beginning of a spectacular NHL career for the man known as Kipper.

Eight years later, Kiprusoff has seen Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, had his name etched on the Vezina and Jennings trophies and has established himself as one of the game’s best goaltenders capable of playing more than 70 games a season.

He sits at the 20-win plateau this season for an eighth straight campaign (20-15-3), with a 2.39 goals=against average, a .918 save percentage and three shutouts.

It’s hard to imagine the Flames without Kiprusoff between the pipes.

“The same as you think of this franchise being without Iggy (Jarome Iginla). Iggy’s been here longer, but I’d put those two guys in the same category,” fellow Finn Olli Jokinen said of Kiprusoff’s value to the Flames. “If you talk about the Flames and you go to different cities, what’s the Flames about? It’s Iggy’s team and Kipper’s team.

“The focus and work he puts in every day, behind closed doors, it’s amazing. In our minds, he’s the best goalie in the league. I think he shows that every night.”

With two more seasons remaining on his current contract, the Flames have to assess their future at the position. But they don’t have to worry about their starter’s age or work ethic in the meantime.

The hard work he puts in off the ice hasn’t changed. It’s why he’s been able to play more than 70 games for six straight seasons and hasn’t missed time due to injury since a knee injury in his first year with the Flames.

“He doesn’t miss games — It’s a sign of a player that really takes care of himself,” Jokinen said after a recent off-ice workout. “He’s been (in the workout room) a couple of hours today already, and he’s still stretching. It’s pretty amazing to play those kind of minutes, especially when you get older. He has to play 60-65 minutes every night and stay sharp. We play 20, and we’re pretty tired.

“Some guys play five.”

Give Sutter credit for bringing Kipper to Calgary. He embodies everything for which the former GM was beloved before things went sour in the front office. Hard work and effort tops among those admirable traits.

“I think that’s always been big for me. It’s a big part of goaltending, doing little things to make sure I’m ready to go,” Kiprusoff said. “It’s those things people don’t see, and I try to keep doing.

“I work every day to be ready for next game.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNMacfarlane


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