February 5, 2012
Kiprusoff padding his stats
By STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency
Having coached the NHL’s all-time wins leader and having played in front of a few other greats, Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter has a pretty good idea of what it takes to be an elite goaltender.
Watching Martin Brodeur from behind the bench in New Jersey, working with the Flames’ Miikka Kiprusoff behind the scenes, sharing locker-room talk with the likes of Billy Smith, Eddie Belfour, and Kelly Hrudey, the 49-year-old Sutter suggests one common thread unites them all.
“Very competitive,” Sutter said with conviction as his team prepares for a three-game road trip during which it’s very likely Kiprusoff will join the 300-win club.
“Their personalities are different, but they’re very competitive guys. All five of them. And they wanted to be the best.
“They were guys that every game, you knew you could count on them.”
Kiprusoff earned his 299th NHL victory in fine fashion during Friday’s 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. His next one — perhaps as soon as Monday’s tilt with the Anaheim Ducks (8 p.m., Sportsnet West) will place him in a category that can be compared with a forward scoring 500 goals or 1,000 points.
The list ahead of him is short, and the 35-year old — who will become just the 27th netminder to win 300 games — appears capable of climbing the ranks over the next couple of years.
Brodeur continues to add to his unbreakable record of 640-plus victories. Patrick Roy racked up 551 in his nearly 20 years of service. Belfour finished with 484.
Islanders legend Smith won 305 regular-season contests to go with his four Stanley Cups. Hrudey finished about one strong season short of the 300 mark, with 271 to his credit.
Kiprusoff knows the significance of what’s to come. But he shrugs it off the same way he does when a rare bad goal gets past him or when he makes one of his many highlight-reel rejections.
“It’s pretty big. Not that many guys have done it before,” Kiprusoff said. “I’m not thinking too much, though. Try to win anyway tomorrow, in a big game. It’d be nice to get it tomorrow.”
He jokes about being able to play “50 more” seasons, which might be the only way the eight-season starter could catch the likes of Brodeur and Roy, who got their chances to become go-to goaltenders extremely early in their careers.
But that late opportunity makes what he’s accomplished even more impressive. When he does join that elite 300 club, Kiprusoff will have the fewest games played of all 27 members.
“It goes to show what he’s accomplished,” said Flames winger Alex Tanguay, who played a few seasons with Roy in Colorado. “It certainly takes time. It takes consistency. It takes just being a good player. That’s what Kiprusoff is. He’s an outstanding goaltender.”
Roy and Kiprusoff are as different as the other netminders Sutter listed, but with one very obvious similarity, at least to those who know them.
“I think in all athletes, there’s a little fire that burns inside of them that they’re trying to be as good as they can be, the best they can be. With the top guys, it’s even more evident,” Tanguay said.
“Miikka has that demeanour. He might not be talking and stuff like that, but you see him on the ice, he doesn’t want to get beat.
“He’s very competitive.”
Three hundred wins speaks to that.
“We’re all hoping he’s gonna get it tomorrow night,” Tanguay said. “He’s done a good job. He’s been a cornerstone of this franchise for the last seven, eight years.
“Patrick is probably the best goalie that ever played the game, when it came to crunch time.
“But Miikka’s been fun to watch.”