‘The best nine years’: Kiprusoff grateful for salute from Flames

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No matter how many goals he stole from opponents, no matter how many games he stole for the Calgary Flames, Miikka Kiprusoff never did much gloating about his individual accomplishments.

On Saturday, however, the legendary goalie couldn’t resist … just once. And this is a shutout worth bragging about.

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Moments before his No. 34 was raised to the rafters at the Saddledome, delivering a speech that admittedly had him feeling more nervous than any of his 500-some career starts in the Flaming C logo, Kiprusoff turned toward his friend, former teammate and fellow franchise icon Jarome Iginla.

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“I don’t think I need to tell you all how amazing a player Iggy was,” Kiprusoff told his audience. “I think there was only one thing he couldn’t do — score on me during the practices.”

A sold-out crowd roared.

A beaming Iginla nodded in agreement.

“But seriously Iggy, it’s a huge honour to have my name up there with yours.”

It’s fitting, too.

For nearly a decade, Iggy and Kipper were the biggest stars in this city. Rock stars, really.

One scored the goals.

The other made the saves.

Together, and with the help of Connie, Reggie, Retro and The Eliminator, they ignited the Red Mile and willed a hard-working bunch to within inches of a Stanley Cup championship in 2004.

Now, their banners will hang side-by-side, both of their numbers off-limits for future use.   

Miikka Kiprusoff
Miikka Kiprusoff as the Calgary Flames retire his No. 34 at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

“A lot of times, I feel like people embellish stories over time,” said former Flames backup Jamie McLennan, first at the microphone to salute his close pal Kiprusoff. “With Iggy, it was ‘The Shift.’ Over time, it became larger than life. When you hear the story now of that shift, it was five minutes long, he attacked their bench, slashed the coach, fought the mascot, had 10 guys on his back and then helped (Oleg) Saprykin score that OT goal in Game 5 of the Cup final. Somewhere in my mind, I believe all that happened, just not in the 90 seconds of arguably Jarome’s greatest work.

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“But when it comes to Kipper and the stories, they stay the same. He trained to be the best goalie in the world. From a talent perspective, he was perfect. He was big, he had a great glove-hand, unbelievable movement and flexibility, off-the-charts hockey sense and reads, calm and unflappable. He just was the perfect goaltender.”

It’s certainly not embellishment to say that Saturday’s jersey retirement ceremony was a perfect tribute, or at least close to it.

There were multiple standing ovations for the guest of honour. They shouted his name — ‘Kipper! Kipper!’ — just like old times. He did so much waving that he might need to ice his glove hand Sunday morning.

There was a loud applause for Darryl Sutter, with fans focused not on his firing last spring but on the fact that he’d traded back in November 2003 for a little-known third-stringer from San Jose. That dude would record 305 wins — including 41 by shutout — for the Flames over the next nine seasons. 

Calgary Flames
Special guests as the Calgary Flames retire Miikka Kiprusoff’s No. 34 at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

There was, of course, an ‘It was in!’ chant, a reference to Martin Gelinas’ shoulda-been championship clincher in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final in 2004.

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Kiprusoff, who moved home to Finland shortly after he retired, spoke for about six minutes. The 47-year-old was sincere and thankful and funny. He seemed calm and cool as ever, although his eyes were a little misty as No. 34 was hoisted toward the roof.

“I fight it at the end, but I made it,” Kiprusoff grinned. “Of course, seeing those old clips and hearing the fans, it is emotional.”

Through it all, Kiprusoff’s two sons — Aaro is 18 and Oskar is 10 — beamed with pride.

“They really enjoyed today, on the ice,” Kiprusoff said. “The younger one asked me, ‘Was it like this when you played?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, it was crazy.’ He was like, ‘That’s cool dad, it’s amazing.’ ”

That’s not embellishment, either.

If Kiprusoff was lying about anything Saturday, it was his spotless record on thousands of practice shots from Iginla.

“Iggy is waiting for me, I know it,” Kiprusoff quipped after the ceremony. “I was waiting for him to stand up and come over and say, ‘No, I scored a lot Kip!’ But he was nice.”

Kiprusoff, who marked this special occasion by donating $34,000 to Calgary Minor Hockey, capped his speech with a sign-off to a fan-base that absolutely adored him.

Since he prefers his privacy, does his darnedest to avoid the spotlight, it might be the last they hear from him.

“When I think about my years in Calgary, meeting so many great people inside and outside of hockey … ” Kiprusoff said. “Nine years went by too fast, but it was the best nine years that my family and I will always remember. Thank you.”

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Saddledome staff rehearse for the Miikka Kiprusoff jersey retirement ceremony. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

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