‘I always loved it here’: Kiprusoff thrilled to return to Calgary for special salute

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Miikka Kiprusoff, who always seemed so calm, so cool, so composed when he was standing in the Calgary Flames’ crease, is admittedly nervous as all heck.

Because standing at the microphone is a different story.

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“I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. I know it’s going to be amazing,” said Kiprusoff, now 47, on the eve of his jersey retirement ceremony at the Saddledome. “But I’m nervous about my speech.”

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Ah yes, the speech.

That has been the hottest topic in town as the Flames ready to raise his No. 34 to the rafters.

The legendary netminder is notoriously quiet. Former teammates will tell you that he’d sometimes pretend he didn’t understand English so he could dodge media interviews.

Which is why everyone is wondering, with 19,289 bums in the seats and Saturday’s special shindig being broadcast to a national audience, will he speak for a minute? For two? For longer?

He promised it wouldn’t be as brief as his induction address when he was enshrined in the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame. On that occasion, he spit out a grand total of 13 words.

“He’s never disappointed the city of Calgary yet,” reminded his former goaltending coach, David Marcoux.

Good point.

Kiprusoff’s arrival in November of 2003 transformed the Flames franchise. During his first season in Cowtown, he backstopped a hard-working bunch to within inches of a Stanley Cup parade.

In a decade-long stint at the Saddledome, he rewrote the club record books, retiring as Calgary’s all-time leader in wins, shutouts, goals-against average and save percentage.

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On many nights, chants of ‘Kipper! Kipper!’ probably echoed as far out as his then-home in De Winton.

He is the fourth Flames’ player to have his jersey number officially declared off-limits for future use, joining Jarome Iginla, Lanny McDonald and Mike Vernon on that iconic list.

Miikka Kiprusoff
Brendan Peters presents Miikka Kiprusoff with a mask he created in the legendary Flames goalie’s honour at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday, March 1, 2024. Peters grew up idolizing Kiprusoff when he was a goaltender and later specialized in painting masks. Photo by Gavin Young /Postmedia

“The fans here were so nice to me from Day 1,” Kiprusoff beamed. “Sometimes, I felt like I don’t deserve this much.”

He certainly deserves Saturday’s salute.

Kiprusoff, now living in Helsinki, gushed that the Flames have treated his entire family like “rock stars” all week. His entourage includes his wife Seidi, his sons Aaro and Oskar, plus his brother and nephew.

He cracked that it was “a big honour” to see his likeness on the label of a local craft beer.

He seemed serious when he predicted that the ceremony — if you have tickets, you’ll want to be in your seat by 6:15 p.m. MT — will be emotional, saying “I’ll try not to cry, but we’ll see.”

“It was the best time of my life,” he said of his stint with the Flames, a run that included seven consecutive seasons of 70-plus appearances. “I always loved it here.”

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He was always loved here.

That will be oh-so-apparent Saturday, when the Flames’ faithful have another chance, maybe a last one, to show their appreciation.

The festivities started with a luncheon Friday, where Kiprusoff was flanked by Iginla, Jamie McLennan, Dion Phaneuf, Robyn Regehr and Rhett Warrener for a hot-stove session that often had the crowd in stitches.

For the first few minutes, the guest of honour was alone on stage.

As his pals were introduced, a beaming Kiprusoff was waving them up.

“Come and save me guys!” he quipped.

On Saturday, like it or not, he will be in the centre of the spotlight. Individual accolades never were his thing.

“It’s weird for me, of course,” Kiprusoff told reporters Friday afternoon. “Giving speeches or talking with you today, I never felt that comfortable. But it’s part of this thing, and it’s been so great and it’s been so fun so far, so I’ll do it.

“Who I am, I think I’m a team guy. So for me, even though it’s my jersey going up there, I think it’s our team’s time. It’s not my moment tomorrow. It’s for the guys who I played with and helped me out a lot. A team guy, that’s who I want to be remembered as.”

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