It’s painfully obvious who the greatest #34 in Flames history was going to be. With that said, poor Jamie Macoun gets the real short end of the stick here. He was a great player with the Flames, winning the Cup in 1989 and playing with Calgary in the 1986 Finals as well. But when it comes to this number no one is even close to being what Miikka Kiprusoff was to the Flames franchise during his tenure.
You have to give credit where credit is due and this whole article goes in a different direction if Darryl Sutter doesn’t absolutely fleece the San Jose Sharks, ala Red Auerbach, in 2003. Sutter, having known Kiprusoff from his days in San Jose, traded a second round pick to the Sharks during the 2003-04 season to get the third string goalie out of San Jose and to Calgary. The Flames starter, Roman Turek wasn’t having the best start to the season and compounding matters was the fact that he got injured in November. So Sutter’s familiarity with Kiprusoff and getting him to the Flames just made sense.
You tend to forget the genius that was Miikka Kiprusoff until you look at what Calgary’s goaltending situation has been like since he retired. If you saw him play you know just how amazing he was. He could make the routine save look tremendous and make difficult saves look easy. His playing style had a flair for the dramatic and his highlight reel saves were outstanding and jaw dropping. It’s hard to imagine another goalie coming along and having the same impact Kipper had on the franchise and the fan base.
The Flames were 7-8-2 prior to Kiprusoff’s arrival with the team and once he suited up, the tone and results of the season changed immediately. He would win his first start, a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, stopping 22 shots on his way to a 24-10-4 record during the regular season. He would only give up 65 goals during the regular season in those 38 games, which was the exact amount of goals he surrendered in San Jose the season prior in just 22 games (5-14-0). His regular season success carried over to the post season as the Flames would ride Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, coming within an inch of winning the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. He would play in 26 games that post season (the most of any goalie) and win 15 games and stop an NHL leading 659 shots along the way.
The introduction to his play was amazing, but the rest of his career would be just as exciting. In seven of his nine years with the Flames he played in no less than 70 games. He was one of the most durable and solid goaltenders in the NHL during his time. He would never win less than 35 games and during the 2008-09 season he would play in a league leading 76 games and win an NHL best 45 games that year. Until his final season where he suffered a knee injury, he never had a GAA above 2.84 or a Save% below .900.
His best season ever would be the 2005-06 campaign where he played out of his mind. He started 74 games that year, compiling a record of 42-20-11, stopping 1,800 of the 1,951 shots that came his way, had 2.07 GAA and led the league with 10 shut outs. His 11 ties were also tops in the league that season. He would win both the William Jennings Trophy and the Vezina Trophy and finish third in the Hart Trophy race. It may be the greatest season (Mike Vernon’s 1988-89 may be best) a Flames goalie has ever had and Calgary didn’t even advance past the first round of the playoffs. Think about that for a minute. Your goalie has THAT season and the team around him is so void of talent that they couldn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs. That’s literally the story of Miikka Kiprusoff and Jarome Iginla.
Speaking of playoffs, in his nine years in Calgary the Flames would make the playoffs a scant five times. He would play in 52 games over that time with a record of 24-27-0, but would have spectacular 2.34 GAA and a outstanding .920 Save%. Now if you love math, you can figure out just how little success the Flames organization had building a team around it’s star keeper. He played in 52 playoff games TOTAL in Calgary, 26 of those came in 2003-04. It’s a crime that a talented player like Miikka Kiprusoff had that little exposure to the post season. Elite goalies like that should deliver deep runs or even a Stanley Cup. It never happened for him and it’s clearly not his fault.
As mentioned above, Kiprusoff would spend the last season in Calgary missing a lot of time due to a knee injury. The minute that happened you could see the writing on the wall. He would play in only 24 games in 2012-13, accumulating his only losing season with the Flames, going 8-14-2 and having his first sub .900 Save% since his last season in San Jose during the 2002-03 campaign. Calgary would fail to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season and at the end of the 2012-13 season, Kiprusoff would quietly head home to Finland and wouldn’t come back to Calgary until December 29, 2019 when he was honoured during a pregame ceremony before the Flames played the Canucks.
When he announced his retirement officially in September of 2013 he had re-written the Flames goaltending record books. Mike Vernon held many of those records, but Miikka Kiprusoff obliterated them all. He’s the all time leader in games played by a Flames goalie (576), first in wins (308), first in shots faced (16,018), first in saves (14,631), first in Save% (.913), first in GAA (2.46), first in shut outs (41) and first in minutes (33,779). Overall, in nine seasons with the Flames he would finish with a record of 305-192-68. He would only play in one All Star Game over his career (2007), which is unfathomable he didn’t play in more. He would become the only goaltender to record a shut out in an outdoor game, blanking the Montreal Canadiens 4-0 during the 2011 Heritage Classic. He would finish in the top five in the Vezina Trophy voting three times and in the top 10 seven and was a Hart Trophy nominee three times as well.
Other Players Having Worn #34 In Flames History
Jamie Macoun (1982-92), Roger Johansson (1993), Brad Miller (1994), Kevin Wortman (194), Joel Bouchard (1995), Corey Millen (1996-97), Jim Dowd (1998), Stewart Malgunas (2000)
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by Mark Parkinson