With veterans away in China, opportunity knocks for David Rittich

Following the 2015-16 hockey season, David Rittich took a gamble. A product of the Czech Republic and four-year veteran of their pro hockey leagues, he had found a comfort zone and some success in his native country. But seeking a challenge, he rolled the dice and signed a deal with the Calgary Flames organization.

At the time, the Flames had three young goalies in the pipeline – Mason McDonald, Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons – and the logic was probably that a steady veteran like Rittich could help bring them along their paths to the NHL level. Entering his third North American training camp, he’s ended up playing more NHL minutes than the three youngsters combined.

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And with Gillies and starter Mike Smith in China for the 2018 ORG NHL China Games, Rittich has a golden opportunity to gain momentum in his quest to lock down the NHL backup job.

We chatted with Rittich following the first day of training camp.

Your first season was spent adjusting to North American ice and establishing yourself. Your second season saw you get some time in the NHL. Heading into this camp, is this your chance to really establish what you can do at the NHL level?

It will be most interesting part in my career probably, this camp. It’s everything open for me and I want to show to everyone that I can be in the NHL for a long time, not for just a couple months.

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Your time in the NHL last season seemed to have two sections: the first chunk saw you as a backup playing occasionally but having to be ready, while the second saw you leaned on as a starter. Did you learn a lot about the mental side of the game with those two roles?

I learned a lot of things about life, about hockey. I want to use that this year to be better, not just as a hockey player but as a person.

It was a great experience for me. These two situations, when I came here it was a great time because team played really really good. Then with Smitty hurt we everyone be a little bit lower than we have to be. But it’s not an issue, so I should be better than I was so hopefully we’ll be better this year.

As the older player of the two challenging for the backup job, are you feeling any pressure at this camp?

[Smiles] Pressure is anytime, everywhere. It’s hockey, and for your job is to be one of 100 goalies. Pressure is always and I just want to show my best. I want to be in the NHL, that’s my point for this season.

Do you see not going to China as an opportunity to gain some momentum in camp? They’re only playing two games and there’s only one net, while the group that’s here will likely play four preseason games before the China group is back.

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It’s better way for me than going to China. Two times in China, it’s not enough because Smitty will play most of it. So I will be here and I’ll play two, three games. It’s a better feeling for me than just sitting on the bench. I’ll be in the game and that’ll be better for me.

    • HAL MacInnis

      Rittich is my horse in this race, as well.

      Nothing against Gillies, but he just does not instill confidence with me. I’d be championing Gillies after a solid year in Stockton though. One more year to work out those bad habits and enter the Flames’ camp on a roll next year. However, it is only one game in. I’d like to see one more complete game from Gillies before the season starts to either confirm my suspicions… or make me eat my words. 😉

    • Getpucksdeep

      But of course that doesn’t apply to Gillies, just Rittich? Lest you forget when Rittich faltered when he had to be the starter that the coaches started using Gillies just as much. Niether shone. Its a new year and new season and both of them have a taste of the NHL to build on. I’m not sold on one or the other until we actually get to the seasons start.

      • Stockton's Finest

        GPD, last pre-season, if memory serves me correct, Gillies got 2 games while Rittich got 1 period of play. All I am saying is that he will finally get more ice time and games than he did last year. This allows him to be a little more comfortable and hopefully stabilizes the back up roll from the start of camp as opposed to being the new guy in the room.

        I still believe that if Rittich was used properly and was given more consistent back up starts, he would have been better when Smith went down. Even when he was sent down, he played in front of a depleted defense that had Olev Yevenko on the top pair.

      • Squishin

        I like your take on a lot of things, Getpucksdeep, including your name. I must disagree with you on your assessment of the backup goalies though – Rittich is clearly the better-developed goalie at this point. The eye test can tell you that much right away, without even needing to look at the stats.
        Gillies seems to be lacking in some of the fundamentals; he leaves entire sections of the net open for the taking (poor positioning), he goes down too early, and his mental game needs work. I am not writing him off entirely, but he needs more time in the AHL to work on these things.

    • everton fc

      Exactly. And Gillies may have some serious competition from Parsons down your way, if Parsons continues to play the way he’s played thus far. Confident, willing to challenge, rather than wait and react. I like Parsons so far.

  • OKG

    He gets a lot of flack for his play after Smith went down but I saw an entire team that played like crap after Smith went down and gave Rittich very little support.

    I think Rittich will not only give us a great season, but push for a spot as a legitimate NHL starter in the future if someone is willing to give him the opportunity.

    • Zalapski

      The big thing with Rittich is game in and game consistency. Lots of goalies have highs and lows, but good nhl starters are consistent. I do think they should groom him for a long term backup roll. He should be there to spell Smith, and next year split time with a free agent, because i honestly don’t think Gillies will develop. Then he can back up Parsons or split with Parsons the year after if Parsons develops and Rittich proves serviceable.

      The guy was a European free agent. He is found money, not every pro needs to be a first liner/starter. I think Rittich raises the floor.

  • Zalapski

    Rittich seems like he has the mental side of things together. “Pressure is Anytime” I’ve always enjoyed his compete level, and i honestly believe doesn’t play the Sigalet “stand on the goal line” style, he could be an effective NHL back up.

  • freethe flames

    The NA games will be interesting as the goalies will be playing behind a weaker defense core and still be playing against some NHL players. The problem remains that if the goalie coach is not working to the strengths of each goalie and teaching them the same style then I think there is something wrong.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I think Rittich has more of a complete game than the other 2. He is bigger than Parsons and plays bigger than Gillies. He is not as athletic a Parsons but he does not over committ. He seems to have a better mental make up but still gets in his head as demonstrated by how he finished the season in the AHL. He seems like he is the perfect back up who can step in every 4 games. I am just not sure about his ceiling. We need a goalie that can make timely saves for when the defensive system breaks down.

  • Redleader

    Trade Gillies,Rittich and Smith for bobrovsky and have parsons as the back up , problem solved ,, next ,, who’s with me ! …..?.. who’s coming with meee!! Lol

  • buts

    Goaltending was at or near the top of BT’s to do list in the off season and he did nothing. Goaltending will be our biggest weakness until it’s addressed. A Stanley cup team is nothing without strong goaltending. It’s the most important position of any good team. There’s people on here that think systems make a goalie. Systems only takes you so far, you still need that quality netminder that can steal a game, install confidence and help win a cup.

    • Cfan in Van

      What goalie would you have gone after in the offseason, Buts? And what do you think it would have realistically cost to bring them in? Would you have targeted a goalie over forward depth, as a priority?

    • Getpucksdeep

      You are right goaltending is critical and in fact, an undeniable fact…Wash, Pitts, LA and Chicago ALL developed their own goalies. They did NOT trade for them. They brought them up thru their own systems. Smith is our #1 but in the unlikely event Calgary actually won the cup this year, Smith was “traded for” and that would be the aberration. Stick with the 3 prospects goalies, thats where the prize is.

      • mrroonie

        Yes, because all the goalies who came up through the Flames system were the reason they almost won the Cup in 2004. It doesn’t matter whether you developed the goalie or if someone else did, it only matters that you have the right goalie at the right time. If a goalie comes available by trade or through free agency who will be better when the team needs him to be than one of the goalies in the system and the price is reasonable, then I sure as heck hope Tre will go out and get him. Develop what you have but don’t be pigeonholed into only using what you have developed. That goes for any position and why I’ve disagreed with some on FN who have questioned Tre going out and getting players like Czarnik and Ryan (who looked pretty good in yesterday morning’s game) when there are prospects coming up through the system.

        The only goalies who have played for the Flames over the last 20 years who came up through the system are Gillies (4-5-1), Ortio (15-15-5), Irving (3-4-4), McElhinney (4-12-1), Dany Sabourin (0-3-0), and Trefilov (3-7-3). Not exactly a list of Vezina contenders and there were several others who never played a game (Szuper, Krahn, etc.). Vernon did his second stint with the team in that time frame but he was acquired through trade then.

        • Cfan in Van

          “If a goalie comes available by trade or through free agency who will be better when the team needs him to be than one of the goalies in the system and the price is reasonable…” That’s a pretty big ask considering the importance of the position, and given who was available in the off season, it makes a lot of sense to me that Tre didn’t make a move at this point in time.
          I agree that developing from within isn’t a be all, end all. But I highly doubt we’re going to see another Kipper acquisition in our lifetime (low cost commodity blossoms instantly into a perennial Vezina candidate).

  • With Respect

    Until proven otherwise Smith is still a qualified starter. Both Rittich and Gillies need to earn the backup spot then eventually play well enough to someday be a number one if not the gm will move on. This was not a good year for ufa goalies for sure.

  • calgaryfan

    too early to judge either goalie, one needs to grab the backup job or Tre will need to find one. Rittich and Gillies both struggled last year. We will see how camp plays out but I would prefer an experienced NHL backup.

    • mrroonie

      Gillies struggled with a 3-5-1 record but Rittich was 8-6-3 last season with one of the losses being because he was the goalie of record in a game he entered after 2 periods with the team down 5-1 that ended 7-5. If BP uses his goalies in a better manner than GG did both before and after Smith’s injury, Rittich should be fine.

  • Puck Head

    Give Rittich a decent chance to prove himself. Goalies are ‘voodoo’ and maybe all it takes is one save or more good game for him to find his mojo.

    Let’s find out for sure what we’ve got before we cut bait and move on.

  • Off the wall

    I’m not trying to be discordant, however don’t we make the broad assumption that it takes on average 300 NHL games before we know what we have in a NHL defence man?

    Why are we all of a sudden forgetting the simple elements of the game of hockey?

    You’d think from all these posts, that Rittich and Gillies should be veterans. Well news flash folks, their young in terms of development still.

    Rittich has played 22 NHL games averaging a .904 Sv %

    Gillies has played 12 games averaging a .903 Sv %

    Can we please stop with all the rhetoric, until these men have both played enough to actually see what we have in them as goalies?

    Compare, disagree, analyze till your hearts content , but don’t paint a picture, when it’s not complete one.

    Sorry, just had to let that out..

    • Puck Head

      OTW, I think you’re still a bit sleep deprived. Start off by talking about defencemen and then you start going on about goalies….

      I think the problem is that everyone wants another Kipper. The problem is that only a few goalies in the NHL are elite. You pretty much have to cross your fingers and hope that Rittich, Parsons etc. becomes that guy.

      The alternative is to have a so-so goalie with an amazing supporting cast in front of him.

      • Puck Head

        Sorry OTW, I reread your post and it makes sense. I’m sleep deprived.

        Did Johnny Sockey and Tiger Williams (your wife’s dog) get into any altercations last night during sock hockey?

        • Off the wall

          No apologies needed Puck.
          It was poorly written. Didn’t draw a parallel very well.

          That’s a good one..Tiger Williams was in bed, otherwise it becomes more like the WWF then hockey.

          Johnny and I had some bonding time, although the lil bugger got a bit rough in the game. I’m going to start wearing my hockey gloves, he’s become accustomed to fighting too much and I haven’t made a penalty box for him yet.

  • Getpucksdeep

    Winnipeg “traded” for a goalie and yet who emerged? Whats really irksome about fans pining for someone else’s goaltender (and god bless’em they mean well) is I can’t recall this team ever having 3, count’em 3 good goalie prospects. 1 is rare enough. BTW how Cups did Kipper win us? Yes was a fantastic goalie but while he got us to the dance once we still didn’t win.

    • freethe flames

      Let’s remember Kipper was someone else’s 3rd or 4th goalie when we traded for him. Here’s hoping one of our young guys develops into a star for us and not someone else.

    • mrroonie

      Kipper was arguably the best goalie in the league from when he joined the Flames in 2003-04 until 2011-12 with more wins than any other goalie over that time. He was the major reason the Flames made the Cup final in 2004, and he won the Vezina and Jennings, and was a first team all-star in 2005-06. He got us to the dance which is something that can’t be said about any goalie brought up through the Flames system in their 46 year existence other than Vernon.

      As for the team having 3 good prospects, Parsons definitely fits that description, Gillies is a work in progress and at the moment he will be lucky to have a career as a backup without some major improvement, and Rittich is one of those “someone else’s goaltender” types you warn us against. He was signed as a UFA at age 24.

      • Getpucksdeep

        Rittich never played for any other NHL organization. Like NCAA free agents, Calgary scouted and signed him so he’s now from “our” system. Both Gillies and Rittich are young as goalies go, have limited NHL exposure yet both are .900+. BTW Prospect tournament or not, Parsons sucked in the ECHL. He is younger yet but will be hopefully very much in the mix in 2-3 years. The Jets panicked last year and signed Mason and yet Hellbuyck somehow emerged. Kipper was better than Vernon and yet we drafted Vernon and won. How many more Elliotts or Hilliers or Ramo’s (Ramo did play for Tampa!) should we go after? Why is that better than working with what we have? BTW its something like 6 or 7 :1 homegrown cup winning netminders to traded for ones like Tim Thomas. Its not unheard of to trade for a cup winner its just the odds are better.

        • mrroonie

          Under your logic, Derek Ryan was from the Hurricanes system even though they signed him as a 29 year old UFA player who had never been part of any other NHL organization and had developed through 4 years of university and 4 years in Europe. He was a free agent signing who was not developed by the team, the same as Rittich whose development was in the Czech system, not the Flames system.

          You mention Elliott, Hiller, and Ramo, yet at the time each of them played for the Flames there was not a goalie who had come up through the Flames system who was anywhere near as good as any of them. It’s hard to fathom how bad those seasons would have been if the Flames had used the other goalies they had in their system rather than those three.

          I agree that the objective for a team should be to attempt to draft and develop their own goalies but it isn’t always feasible and the other options have to be considered if you want a goalie who is ready to make a run at the same time as the rest of the team.

        • mrroonie

          I’m not sure where you get your stats from but over the last 30 seasons, 14 of the Cup winning goalies had been acquired by trade or by UFA signings at age 25 or older. Only 12 of the 20 Stanley Cup winning goalies (there were 10 that were won by goalies who won it multiple times over that stretch) were developed by their team.

      • Getpucksdeep

        “Kipper was arguably the best goalie in the league from when he joined the Flames in 2003-04” true, but no one including Sutter knew that before they traded for him. He wasn’t a “star” when he put his first Flames jersey on. That came soon after and actually many think it fooled Mgt into thinking our team was better than it was, he was so good.

        • mrroonie

          You seem to forget that Sutter had Kipper for 2 seasons with San Jose so I would expect that he knew a lot about his potential. Either way, it totally goes against your theory that the only way to get good goalies is to bring them up through your own system.

          • Getpucksdeep

            Its not a “theory” its a statistic. Look it up yourself. Did Kipprusoff win a Stanley Cup? Cause 20 years from now he’s Vezina footnote. No one ever cares who was second. You still haven’t responded to why an NHL UFA of any kind is a solution over sticking with Smith and developing our own. I said the vast majority are home developed, not every one. 40 year old Tim Thomas did it. Sutter had Kipper for 2 years and exactly what did Kipper accomplish there? BTW Sutter was one of the worst GMs this team ever had. He mismanaged the cap so bad we had to ice 17 skaters for awhile once. His draft record was tepid at best.

  • freethe flames

    Rittich probably plays 2 of the 4 games that will be played before the goalies in China play in NA. The I would expect Gilles to get at part of one game when they get back.