Hero of the day

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:16 PM ET


 Standing in front of a throng of cameras and microphones yesterday, Miikka Kiprusoff's eyes lit up as he spoke candidly about venturing where he's never been before.

 Last night's Metallica concert.

 "I've never been to a live concert before -- I think it's probably (going to be) great," said Kipper, hours before attending the sold-out show at the 'Dome.

 "I really like them. A lot of the guys like Toni (Lydman) are coming, for sure. Probably Metallica is a little too soft for him. He likes harder stuff but he's coming anyway."

 Three days before his Flames open the conference finals in the ol' Shark Tank, quiet Kipper showed hints of a lighter side as he prepared to be dangled in front of his former teammates.

 Sticking with the Metallica theme, he said if he wasn't a professional goaltender he would have been a rock star.

 "Or model, probably," he laughed.

 Resplendent in a ripped Flames t-shirt and shrunken track pants following practice, Kiprusoff has in fact been a model of sorts for teammates who've been steadied by his calming influence behind them.

 Regardless of the score or situation, the 27-year-old Finn is now known league-wide for flipping up his mask between whistles to reveal a blank look reminiscent of a gopher emerging from his hole. While drinking from his water bottle, he looks around as if wondering, 'Where am I, who are you and why are you all looking at me?'

 It begs even more questions concerning who taught him how to shrug off the most adverse of situations.

 "I've been letting so many goals in, so I learned by myself," deadpanned Kiprusoff.

 "Some (goalies) have to be real mad to play well. For me to stay calm and see the puck, it's important."

 Acquired from the Sharks by his former coach in mid-November for a conditional draft pick, Kiprusoff turned from third-stringer to Vezina candidate overnight, making him the juiciest of stories heading into his reunion at HP Pavilion.

 "I don't really care if it's my old team or not -- they have a good team and we have to play our own game," said Kiprusoff, reverting to the monotone sound bites he generally relies upon.

 "When you play in the conference final, you want to win anyway -- it's no big deal. Hopefully, it's good for me (to know their shooters) but otherwise they know me, too."

 Kiprusoff, who grew up playing road hockey with neighbour Saku Koivu, said he has stayed in touch with former Sharks roomie Vesa Toskala -- until now.

 "No, no way," said Kiprusoff, when asked if he'd be chatting with the goalie the Sharks kept instead of him because Toskala's younger and didn't have to clear waivers.

 "Good," said coach Darryl Sutter upon hearing of his netminder's stance.

 "You're not supposed to."

 You're not supposed to post goals-against averages under 2.00 either but that never stopped Kiprusoff from doing it during the season (1.69) or the playoffs (1.92). The test now is whether he can be good enough to beat Sharks starter Evgeni Nabokov, whose post-season has been even smoother (1.34).

 "They were good guys," said Kiprusoff, who calmly bided his time during training camp, waiting to be traded to a team he fit with perfectly.

 "I was in the pressbox when the season started and I didn't think I'd be playing in the conference finals.

 "Of course it's pressure but I think I can handle it."

 To this point he has, establishing himself as a fan favourite who must now take centre stage daily to answer questions about everything from his first concert and former roommates to whether he lost big money to teammates when Finland fell to Canada at the world championship yesterday.

 "I haven't been paying any attention to the world championships," joked Kiprusoff, trying to escape the scrum.

 "Yeah, yeah, I lost money."

 As he does following most losses, he'll bounce back.


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