He's the 'Kipper' of the Flames
Tuesday, June 1, 2004; Page D03
CALGARY, Alberta -- Ville Nieminen has seen only one weakness in goalie Miikka Kiprusoff during their few months together with the ever-surprising Calgary Flames.
He can stop any shot in any game, but he's not very good at delivering punch lines.
"He's funny but he has no sense of humor," said Nieminen, who himself owns a razor wit almost as sharp as his skate blade. "He is sarcastic. He's so sarcastic, he's almost funny."
Kiprusoff displayed that dry sense of humor when, after the Calgary Zoo named a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep "Kipper" for him, he was asked if anything else was named for him.
"Hopefully not," he said.
But Kiprusoff's name could wind up on the Stanley Cup very soon if he maintains a playoff ride that has been every bit as spectacular as that by Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere last year. Giguere was the playoff most valuable player even though the New Jersey Devils won the Cup.
What's remarkable is Kiprusoff began the season as the No. 3 goalie in San Jose, never playing before being traded to Calgary for a conditional draft pick in mid-November.
Calgary coach and general manager Darryl Sutter began the 2002-03 season as the Sharks' coach before being fired, and Kiprusoff had impressed him despite his 5-14 record and 3.25 goals against average while filling in during Evgeni Nabokov's contract holdout.
"I wasn't going to trade a good young player to get a goaltender," Sutter said. "And obviously we weren't in the market to go buy. . . . Some higher-salaried goaltenders were out there at the time being shopped around, but obviously we couldn't get into that."
About eight games into Kiprusoff's Flames career, teammate Craig Conroy began to think the Finnish-born goalie might be special.
"I thought, wow, it's not just one or two games," Conroy said. "He had been consistently solid and then we had a rough game where they scored five or six against him in Colorado. The way he bounced back . . . I thought maybe it was his best game of the season."
Sutter thinks being given the chance to be a No. 1 goalie, and not just for the short term, led Kiprusoff to enjoy the season. It showed with a 24-10-4 record and 1.69 goals against average that was the NHL's lowest since World War II.
"You're getting a player who is 27 years old that has something to prove," Sutter said. "He was number 3 on their depth chart, but in most organizations he's at least number 2 and pushing for number 1. He wanted a chance to prove that."
Kiprusoff has maintained his high level of play during the postseason, holding four division champions (the Canucks, Red Wings, Sharks and Lightning) to a 1.87 goals against average through 22 games. He also has five shutouts, as many as Giguere had last spring.
"Our team, they make me look real good," said Kiprusoff, who took some satisfaction from beating San Jose in the Western Conference final. "They play great defense and block shots and our defensemen let me see the puck."
It's not difficult for the Flames to see what they have in Kiprusoff, who played in only 46 NHL games before being traded to them. During a 3-0 shutout of Tampa Bay in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday, Kiprusoff single-handedly changed the momentum by stopping Brad Richards on a short-handed breakaway shortly before Chris Simon scored the first goal.
"You think we would be here without him? I don't think so, either," Nieminen said. "You can talk about defense and offense and atmosphere and whatever, but if your goalie isn't there you can't build anything. It's like trying to build a house on soft land, your foundation must be hard.
"He's the guy who gives us a chance."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company