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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

David Rittich: ‘I just want to prove I can be a starter in the NHL.’

It’s probably not a stretch to say that David Rittich has had a meteoric rise in the Calgary Flames goaltending ranks. Since entering the organization as a European free agent signing just four short years ago, he’s quickly become one of the most important players.

Originally brought in for depth, Rittich rose to the challenge and became Stockton’s starter in 2016-17. In 2017-18, his strong start earned him the backup job in Calgary after Eddie Lack faltered early in the season. In 2018-19 he thrived in net early in the season when Mike Smith struggled, to the point where he had the second-fewest regulation losses in the 2018 half of the schedule – only Andrei Vasilevskiy had fewer – and was discussed as a potential Vezina candidate.

Unfortunately, Rittich suffered a knee injury on Dec. 31 that lingered throughout the season. The malady impacted his performances and led to Mike Smith taking over the crease for the remainder of the season (and the playoffs).

2018-19 GP GS W L OT Sv% ES Sv% GAA
2018 Half 23 20 13 4 3 .920 .935 2.39
2019 Half 22 22 14 5 2 .902 .910 2.83

“It wasn’t frustrating, It was kind of different feeling for me,” said Rittich after a training camp skate at the Saddledome. “You know, you try to help the guys and sometimes it didn’t go well and you’re still trying to work out with your bad knee and trying to do things like that. It’s not stressful, it was kind of painful I’d say more than stressful.” He shrugged. “Who cares now? What happened happened and I’m just looking forward to next season.”

After a stellar regular reason and a disappointing playoffs, the Flames are obviously hoping to prove that their 82 game body of work is more representative of how good they are. For Rittich, the continuity with the defensive group – a group that will largely be the same as last season’s – should come in handy.

“It’s always easier if you know the guys,” said Rittich. “We didn’t make a lot of changes in the D, and I’m glad because our D-mans are good. We just have to work together, trying to be one group on the ice – don’t do like one guy in the corner, one guy on the blueline. We have to go five guys together and trying to be better.”

The big change for the Flames on the back end will be with the addition of former Edmonton Oilers netminder Cam Talbot. A strong backup with the New York Rangers (and a pretty decent starter with the Oilers), Talbot wore the 33 jersey number throughout his playing career. But he decided to switch up his number, allowing Rittich to hold onto 33 himself.

“Actually, I was going to text him if he wanted to take my number or what was he gonna do?” said Rittich. “And I just woke up at home and I opened [the internet] up and was ‘Okay, i don’t have to text him anymore.’ I’m glad he left my number for me. I would say, it’s not about numbers. When I was here first year, I had 39 [in Stockton] so who cares about numbers? It’s not about numbers, but it’s always nice to get yours. I’m glad he left it for me.”

As for Rittich, he’s focused on proving that his superb first half is a level he can maintain this season.

“I want to be better every year. I just want to prove I can be a starter in the NHL.”