Ortio’s Long Road to The NHL Paved With Bumps and Believers

His successful and headline-grabbing recent stint in Calgary might have
taken some people by surprise, but a couple of the first Flames coaches
to work directly with Joni Ortio could see signs of this as a possible
outcome years ago.

Jamie McLennan was director of goaltender development for the Flames in
2008 when he first crossed paths with a young and talented Finnish
netminder during a trip overseas to work with Miikka Kiprusoff in the
offseason. On the ice with legendary goalie coach Uri Ylonen, Kiprusoff,
Saku and Mikko Koivu and some other NHLers was a 17-year-old Ortio.

So impressed with the raw skills he witnessed, McLennan made sure the
Flames knew about the kid who idolized their superstar starter and got
Ortio on the team’s radar.

“I think Joni at the time was like 17 years old and he was practicing
with all the NHLers — and hanging in there,” recalls McLennan. “Joni was
good. He’s got a ton of skill.”

Ortio impressed the Flames scouting staff enough over the next year for
them to scoop him up in the sixth round of the 2009 draft, after which
head coach Brent Sutter called McLennan to let him know they got his
guy.

It’s taken a long time for Flames fans to see the same promise McLennan witnessed almost seven years ago.
His first foray into North America in 2011 wasn’t what anyone would call
attention grabbing. At least not for the right reasons. Ortio got a
harsh welcome to this side of the Atlantic after signing an amateur
tryout contract with the Abbotsford Heat at the end of the 2010-11
season. He was lit up in his only game — giving up six goals on 30
shots. Still, the team inked him to an entry-level NHL deal and he took
part in the summer development camp before heading to Penticton for the
Young Stars tournament with the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks,
Edmonton Oilers and Flames prospects facing off in the (pre) pre-season
showcase.

His first game there was equally disappointing on the scoreboard.
Another six goals against in his first game against the Sharks. The
potential wasn’t shining through. At least not to those looking at the
result rather than the individual.

New goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk entered a post-game meeting with
Flames staff and walked into a mess of frantic questions at the time.

“Everybody was up in arms that this kid can’t play. ‘Oh my God, what the
hell did we do?’” Malarchuk laughs. “I kind of walked into the meeting
after the game and they were like, ‘What’s up with this guy?’ “
Malarchuk put the brakes on.

“He’s going to be fine,” he told them. “I saw a lot that I really liked in him. They were looking at me like I had three heads.”

His theory was that Ortio just needed to play a little more out of his net on the North American ice.

“I liked his quickness, I liked his movement, I liked everything about him,” Malarchuk says.

With a backlog of backstops in Abbotsford that year when Danny Taylor
emerged as a guy pushing former first-round pick Leland Irving for the
starting job, Ortio was the odd man out. He was shipped back to Finland
with the hope he could develop with more playing time back home. In his
nine appearances for the Heat, he posted an .890 save percentage and
2.94 goals-against average, winning just one game.

“He was immature,” says McLennan, not referencing Ortio’s personality,
but his game. “He needed some experience. I think we brought him over at
20 and it didn’t work out a ton. I’m still a firm believer in
goaltenders don’t get good until they’re 23, 24. And they don’t hit
their stride until they’re 25, 26. Joni’s really following that path.”

The Flames didn’t know for sure if that path would ultimately lead to the NHL at the time.

“It was a bit of a gamble but we were pretty sure he’d get more ice time
over there,” says Malarchuk, who got to work with Ortio again when he
returned to the Flames last season after the team — maybe surprisingly —
chose to re-sign their prospect after his entry-level deal ended.

That move looks shrewd now. Ortio took over the top spot in Abbotsford
and finished second behind Jake Allen with a .926 save percentage,
winning 27 of his 37 games.

He won four games in the NHL as a call-up, too, and although his
individual numbers were not great, his mental game impressed Malarchuk.

“He’s so calm. He’s able to stay in that focused zone,” he says. “When
he got called up, he wasn’t a nervous guy at all. He’s very confident.
He’s not overwhelmed by the NHL. His demeanor is great for a goalie.”

It reminds some of Kiprusoff. McLennan is among them. But he’s felt that way for a while.

“I think he emulates Miikka, and he looks a lot like him — the way he
carries himself; the way he tries to catch pucks,” McLennan says.

Most importantly, he thinks like his hero.

“His demeanor, he’s built like all the other Finnish goaltenders. Their
lateral movement is excellent, their demeanor is just unflappable. It
just rolls off of them. He handles the puck well. All the details of his
game are really strong. A lot of young goaltenders come up from junior
or come over from Europe and they have the skillset, but they don’t play
the same way every night. We watched Miikka for many years — he played
the same way every night. That consistency in your game comes with
physical and mental maturity. You can’t rush that.

“Joni’s finding that. It’s through development. It probably hasn’t been the perfect path, but how he’s playing now … “

A four-game winning streak was finally derailed on Thursday
in Anaheim, a hostile place for any Flames goalie. A mercy pulling at
the pond is nothing new for a Flames team that simply doesn’t win
against the Ducks there.

And that blemish on Ortio’s stunning stat line is just another bump on what looks like the road to a bright NHL future.

  • PrairieStew

    I will admit that when he went back to Finland I wrote him off. I’m very excited to see he has developed the one thing that I kinda wonder about is the position of his glove hand. It’s in position but it is closed rather than it being wide open like most goaltenders. It’s like he is tempting shooters to shoot there. Also I think shooting high on him might be a weakness although him going down *earlyish* can be worked on.

    The one thing I really do like is his confidence. I consider it a must to be a pro goalie.

    • Burnward

      I agree. The hole I see in him is he goes low early on plays behind the net to protect against wrap-arounds. But he often stays there when the play moves back out.

      That Jackman goal was a good example.

      Other than that though, he is quick, strong positionally and controls rebounds well. Could be legit.

  • PrairieStew

    In his most recent stint only the Tim Jackman goal, last night, was one that could be blamed on him.

    He looks steady out there. I love that we have him and Gillies waiting in the wings. Between the two of them we should get at least 1, if not 2, NHL calibre goaltenders that can grow up and build this franchise with Brodie, Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett and the like..

  • PrairieStew

    At the time Joni was drafted I had heard he was very highly recommended by Kipper. They were both from the same home town in Finland and Kipper had a friendship established with him. If so glad the Flames management and scouts listened….

  • PrairieStew

    Great background info Ortio. The flames have invested in him as their draft pick and will continue with him in the future — Kipper 2 starring Joni Ortio as Kipper

  • PrairieStew

    Ortio was assigned to Addy today, along with Granlund and WSpoon.

    Will he spend time there until Hiller/Ramo trade can be done and called up or will he be there for the season?

    • RKD

      I think a deal is done. They told the AHL that Ortio will not play in the All Star game on Monday. My guess is he will be on his way back to Calgary Monday. Not as a third goalie but to back up the goalie they have decided on as their number one to run for the playoffs. Enough evaluation on Hiller and Ramo as Ortio pushed the decision who I think Ramo is traded and will be announced Monday.

      Could be wrong but I don’t think so. The team he could be going to could be either : TB, Wash, or NYI. For who that we can try and guess.

  • beloch

    Kipper played his first 5 NHL games (average sv% of 0.902) when he was 23 and he was still playing games in the AHL when he was 24. He spent two seasons and change as a backup in San Jose before being traded to Calgary to become the goalie we all remember. He got good around 23 or 24 and didn’t peak until 26 or a bit after. In this, Kipper stuck pretty close to McLennan’s timeline for goalie development.

    Ortio is currently 23. He’s probably just getting good. What really encourages me about his game is that, over those four wins, he made things look easy for long stretches while doing things that are deceptively hard. For example, his rebounds tended to fall right onto the sticks of Flames players a very large proportion of the time. That shows good control of rebounds, awareness of where players are, and the hockey IQ to rapidly figure out where they’re about to be. Goalies that worry about all this when making saves probably mature later than those that just worry about getting in the way of the puck, but the end result is often worth the wait.

    Ortio is not guaranteed to become Kipper 2.0. In fact, the odds are probably against it. Kipper really was exceptional in his prime! However, Ortio at least has a shot at it and, failing that, should still be a solid NHL starter. He might not be ready for full-time starter duty this season or next season, but the Flames still have Hiller under contract.

    As for being sent down to the AHL, Ortio must have known this would shortly follow his first loss. Treliving was in a tight spot, in terms of contracts, and was bending over backwards to keep three goalies in the NHL. Ortio should be in high spirits because he definitely impressed people. There’s a full-time spot in the NHL waiting for him next season, and he’s even got a shot at beating out Hiller for starter duties.

    Ramo is the guy that most people seem to have forgotten. The Flames plucked him from Europe and turned him into a NHL starter, but he just hasn’t had much luck this season between injuries and Hiller being red-hot. I’d be surprised if Hartley doesn’t give him some starts very soon. It’s make or break time for Ramo’s career, and I bet he’s been very sharp in practices. If Ramo can string together a few hot games he’ll be easy to trade, and Hiller can rest up for the homestretch in the meantime. If Ramo faceplants… Well, the Flames might flip him for a late rounder or just let him walk in the summer. It would be a shame to see that happen.

  • The Last Big Bear

    1) Goalies are voodoo.

    2) Any attempt by a non-goalie to understand a goalie is futile.

    3) Any attempt by one goalie to understand another goalie is futile.

    4) When you find a good goalie, keep him.

    …That is everything I know about goalies.

  • RedMan

    Very interesting on a possible deal in place with one of our goaltenders. We shall see..

    McGrattan is going to be a great mentor for David Wolf! Absolutely perfect..the fan favorite in Glens Falls will be a fan favorite in Calgary, hopefully Bollig gets put aside for this to happen though I have nothing against Wolf continuing to develop in the AHL for a bit yet. He’s coming on strong though!

  • Bucho

    Love the potential Joni has demonstrated. Flames show some depth at the goalie position which is exciting. Joni needs to continue to play games and not sit on the bench. I can see the flames squeaking into a wild card playoff spot this year and riding the hot goalie into the next round. Cant wait to see Joni back in Flames jersey!