You can’t have an all-time team without a starting goalie. And is there anybody better to anoint as a starter than the guy who, for seven straight seasons, played at least 70 games a season? At a (mostly consistently) high level? And somehow didn’t die?
From lockout to lockout, Miikka Kiprusoff was the backbone of the Calgary Flames. He was in net night in and night out, and while he never won a Stanley Cup for his efforts (although he was one of two major reasons the Flames even got close), he did secure the only Vezina Trophy in the franchise’s history.
You better believe he starts for the FlamesNation All-Time Flames Team.
Miikka Kiprusoff was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round, 116th overall, in the 1995 NHL entry draft. He was playing for his hometown TPS Turku at the time, but eventually made the move over to Sweden, backstopping AIK for two seasons, before returning home to Turku an improved goalie.
Groomed by Urpo Ylönen from an early age, Kipper was one of the greatest to come out of Finland. Before the turn of the millennium, he headed out west, to North America, to play mostly for the AHL’s Kentucky Thoroughblades (and later, the Cleveland Barons), and occasionally for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.
Come the 2003-04 season, with the starting job firmly in Evgeni Nabokov’s hands, Kiprusoff battled Vesa Toskala for San Jose’s backup position. He became the third stringer, and languished until Nov. 16, 2003, when Roman Turek got hurt and Darryl Sutter – only a year removed from the Sharks – traded for him out of necessity in what was, arguably, the best move he ever made.
He got the Flames back into the playoffs after a seven-year drought, brought them to the Stanley Cup Final, won a Vezina, became known for several highlight reel saves, and dominated Calgary’s net until finally retiring at the end of the 2013 season, signalling the death knell of that particular era of the Flames.
The man’s overall body of work is incredibly impressive, so here’s a general, brief look back. And yes, it’s got two of Those Saves in there: the diving across the empty net to stop Kyle Wellwood with his stick, and the reactionary kick save as Scott Nichol’s puck was about to cross the line.
Then there’s the other of Those Saves:
- Only Flame to win the Vezina and Jennings Trophies
- First in All-Time Flames games played by a goaltender (576)
- First in All-Time Flames minutes played by a goaltender (33,779 minutes, or about 23.5 days)
- First in All-Time Flames wins (305)
- First in All-Time Flames wins in a single season (45)
- First in All-Time Flames shutouts (41)
- Second in All-Time Flames playoff games played by a goaltender (52)
- Second in All-Time Flames playoff wins (24)
- First in All-Time Flames playoff shutouts (6)
Miikka Kiprusoff is the best goalie the Calgary Flames have seen to date. Coming in as an unheralded 27-year-old injury replacement, he took the Flames – and then the NHL – by storm with exceptional athleticism and outstanding play to establish that, at his peak, there were few better.
Kipper was one of two players you can point towards and thank for reviving the Flames. A key component since his acquisition, Calgary no longer had to worry about who was starting in net. It was Kipper. He took a team that scored the third fewest goals in the NHL one season and had them win the division. Between lockouts, absolutely nobody played more hockey than he did: 514 games, over 4,000 minutes a season for seven straight, establishing himself as an absolute workhorse who would keep pucks out of the net every single night.
When he didn’t, he got up, slipped his mask up, and took a drink, expressionless. That in itself is part of his legacy: an iconic shot from a man with the mental fortitude to not be rattled by something so insignificant as a single puck getting past him.
He leads the Flames in almost every single Flames goaltender category, and for good reason: he was The Guy. Those are records that are going to stand for some time.
It wasn’t even just Calgary he established a legacy with: he was the first Finnish goaltender to come to the NHL and experience major success, a pioneer in the flood of Finnish goaltending that descended upon the NHL in his wake.
But when you think Calgary Flames goaltending, you think flaming skulls square to the shooter; kicking rebounds away; smooth lateral movement; mid-air glove saves that look easy; and when things are at their worst, sheer reactionary desperation moves that pay off because the man in the net is just that good. You think Miikka Kiprusoff.