The end of an era: The Flames have no Finnish goalies

On Nov. 14, 2003, the Calgary Flames made franchise history: they acquired their first Finnish goalie, a then-27-year-old third stringer by the name of Miikka Kiprusoff. Up until then, every netminder who had ever played for the franchise was American (Jim Craig), Russian (Andrei Trefilov), Czech (Roman Turek), or Canadian (another 26 guys).

Before Kiprusoff, Finnish goalies weren’t really a thing in the NHL. He wasn’t the first one to come along, but he ended up becoming the most prolific, still leading all of his countrymen in games played and wins, plus being the first to win a Vezina Trophy.

Kipper also became a leader for the Flames. No goalie has played more minutes for this team or stopped more pucks, and his lofty totals leave a lot for any future netminder to reach. The Flames haven’t had a franchise goalie since he retired.

But they have had Finnish goalies since he bowed out of the NHL – until now.

When Kiprusoff stepped down following the lockout season of 2013, the Flames were ready. Karri Ramo, who had been acquired alongside Mike Cammalleri, was coming in, his contract with Omsk of the KHL finally over.

They also had Joni Ortio – Kiprusoff’s double in every physical stat, right down to their birth city of Turku – waiting in the wings, finally ready to play hockey in North America full time.

Hell, they’d even had Vesa Toskala for a brief stint during Kiprusoff’s tenure, and Niklas Backstrom closed out his NHL career in Calgary. Backstrom – fourth out of all Finnish goalies in NHL games played – didn’t come over until Kiprusoff had established himself a success in the league, despite being two years older.

The point is: even when Kiprusoff hung up his pads, there was always a Finn in Calgary present to take his place.

Not so much the case anymore. With Ramo and Ortio released into the wilderness that is unrestricted free agency – a wilderness from which neither has yet emerged – the Flames are without any Finnish goalies for the first time in 13 years.

Elliott and Johnson actually look poised to be quite possibly the best tandem this franchise has ever seen (taking modern developments in goaltending into account). Both are Canadian. The great hope for the future, Jon Gillies, is American. For that matter, so is Tyler Parsons. Mason McDonald and Nick Schneider are Canadian, and David Rittich is Czech.

Outside of Jyrki Jokipakka and Eetu Tuulola – a defenceman and a forward, respectively – there are no more Finns to be found in the Flames organization. Not between the pipes.

It really is the end of an era here.

    • Aadvarkian Abakeneezer

      Or if not next year, soon. Assuming his NHL career continues. The flashes of brilliance mixed with maddening inconsistency are all too reminiscent of Kipper’s start in the league. We made the right decision getting rid of him, but by any reasonable estimation at the time, so did San Jose with Kipper. Just look how that turned out.

  • beloch

    Kipper was a late-bloomer who didn’t really accomplish much in the NHL until his 27-year-old season, after which he was the Flames’ starter until he retired. Given how similar Ortio’s style is to Kipper’s, I’d have loved to see him given another season (He’s 25).

    Chad Johnson is likely going to be a dependable backup goalie this season, but he doesn’t have a lot of upside. A duo of Elliott and Ortio would have been a bit higher risk, but also could have netted a significantly higher reward. If Ortio had a good season, he would have been worth significantly more in trade than Johnson will be next summer. It’s reasonable to expect Ortio would have shown significantly better stats next season if he were given sheltered backup games (see note below).

    However, next summer’s goalie market might not be a seller’s market. Would developing Ortio have been worth losing a few games (and possibly missing the playoffs)? If it’s expected that Gillies will be ready for the backup role in 2017, keeping Ortio this season might not net the team more than a third-round pick next summer. Even if Ortio succeeds elsewhere, Treliving may have made a smart decision here.

    Note: This is a foreign concept in Calgary, but many teams give their starter the tough games and let their backup play against easier opponents. While Kipper was a Flame, the team actually did the opposite. Kipper would get games against opponents the team was likely to beat and the first game in back-to-backs, while the backup would be thrown to the wolves in games that were more difficult to win. Not surprisingly, practically no goalie backing up Kipper wound up smelling of flowers.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    The Elliott / Johnson tandem looks to be promising and I’m hopeful goaltending will be a position of strength for the Flames. In my opinion, the best Flames goalie tandem was Kipprusoff and Turek. While Turek was often maligned (and somewhat justifiably), he was an outstanding backup while he lasted. Unfortunately, he was only a backup here for a handful of games.

  • piscera.infada

    What indication do we have outside of “they’re from the same hometown” that Ortio will be anywhere near what Kipper was?

    I mean, I get the hope, but it’s largely unfounded in reality. Miikka had considerably better numbers over considerably more time in the AHL than Ortio (Kipper never has a save percentage in the AHL under .924, Ortio only crested that number once with a .926). Kiprusoff also posted better numbers in his time in the Liiga (albeit as an older than player) than Ortio ever did.

    Look, Ortio never really showed as much as I think people like to pretend he did. Yes, he came in and stood on his head for a few separate games here and there. However, we all know that any given goaltender can do that on any given night. It’s about their body of work, and Ortio’s wasn’t that great. I hate using this kind of argument, but I all sincerity, if Ortio was truly the type of future NHL goaltender in waiting that people make him sound, he would have been signed by an NHL team at least in some capacity.

    • jakethesnail

      It was Ortio who pulled the team out of the December slump and got them back on track in a year the Flames won a playoff round. He did not do much after that.

      • piscera.infada

        That’s kind of my point. He stole a game. Awesome. But as you said “he did not do much after that”.

        The worst backup goalies have good NHL games every so often, it doesn’t mean they’re suddenly starters. I’ve just never really bought Ortio as some sort of future de facto starter, and I feel he’s been unfairly hyped because his birth certificate reads Turku.