CALGARY – There were no funny videos of Miikka Kiprusoff playing golf, or fishing, like when Teemu Selänne announced his decision to play another year. Then again, unlike Selänne, Kiprusoff didn’t change his mind, even if the Flames told Kiprusoff to take his time over summer to make sure retiring was really what he wanted.
“I decided to retire at the end of last season,” Kiprusoff said. “I appreciated Jay Feaster and the Flames organization permitting me to take the summer to be 100 per cent sure. It’s an important decision for me personally, my family, the Flames organization and fans. Jay and I had conversations over the summer and nothing had changed for me and upon returning to Calgary last week, I once again spoke with Jay and confirmed with him that I would be retiring.”
Of course, that he didn’t change his mind was no surprise. The 2006 Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s best goalie has always done things his way.
And yet, his career is also a good example of how even the best of players need to get their chance. The Turku native made his Finnish league debut with his hometown’s TPS Turku as an 18-year-old. Back then, there was no “Kipper”, there was just “Little Kipru”. The big one was Miikka’s brother Marko, a Finnish national team regular in the 1990s.
The year after he played 12 games in the Finnish league, posting a modest 4.14 goals against average. When he returned from his two-year long tour of Sweden, he took over the starter’s job in Turku, was voted Best Goalie, and won the Finnish championship with TPS Turku. Not a bad finish for a season that started with AIK Stockholm – not wanting to see Kiprusoff leaving for the San Jose Sharks that had drafted him in 1995 – signing another goalie despite Kiprusoff having another year left in his contract.
“My career took another turn in Stockholm. They were the first club to give me a chance to be a starter,” Kiprusoff told Svenska Dagbladet in 2004.
But even in San Jose, Kiprusoff got stuck behind Yevgeni Nabokov and Vesa Toskala, and only played 49 games in his first three seasons with the club. Eventually, Roman Turek’s injury got the Flames’ then-GM Darryl Sutter to turn to the Sharks to see if they’d be willing to trade one of their backups.
They were. The next spring, the Flames went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but lost Game 7 to the Tampa bay Lightning, 2-1. Kiprusoff was a Vezina candidate - Martin Brodeur won it - but two years later, in 2006, he won the Vezina Trophy.
While Kiprusoff represented Finland in two World Juniors tournaments, two World Championships, the 2004 World Cup, and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, he remains a man of mystery even in his homeland. All in all, he played just 70 games in the Finnish league, including the playoffs, while recording twice as many games in the Swedish league – he also played with Timrå in 2004/2005 when the NHL season was scratched by a labour conflict – and then close to 700 games in the NHL, including the playoffs.
But behind the mask, and the mask behind his mask, there is a practical joker, and a funny guy, his friends say.
“He’s wild. You wouldn’t believe it, but he’s a social guy who makes people laugh,” Ville Nieminen, who played with him during the Flames Stanley Cup run in 2004, told Finnish Veikkaaja in 2010.
Among the stories: Kiprusoff told the Flames’ goalie coach that he was lifting weights – “only heavy weights” – in the off-season, making the club nervous enough to send the coach to Finland to check up on their goalie. He and Toskala painted their faces white to fool Finland’s U20 national team coach that both goalies were sick. He couldn't take shots during practice, because he was eating a Snickers bar. He once borrowed the Sharks’ assistant GM’s credit card, and returned it the day after, with a sizable bill to follow.
But mostly he robbed shooters. Kiprusoff played over 70 games in each of his eight 82-game seasons with the Flames, and now leaves the game as the Flames all-time leader in wins (305); games played (576), and shutouts (41).
“Miikka Kiprusoff has been the backbone of the Calgary Flames since his arrival here in 2003, and every night for more than 70 nights per season, his magnificence between the pipes gave the team a chance to win. He inspired hope and confidence, and he made those around him better players as a result of his brilliance. Miikka will take his place in the pantheon of great NHL goaltenders, and his place in Flames’ history is secure,” said Flames GM Jay Feaster.
“I’ve been very lucky to have spent 10 years of my career in Calgary. There is no better place to live and play. I look forward to taking the next year with my family to enjoy everything wonderful about southern Alberta,” said Kiprusoff.