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.