CALGARY – The Calgary Flames have competition in goal at training camp for the first time in years.
The retirement of workhorse Miikka Kiprusoff left a void in net as the Flames prepare for the 2013-14 NHL season.
Kiprusoff was Calgary’s undisputed No. 1 after backstopping the Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup final. The softspoken Finn played seven seasons of 70-plus games during his tenure in Calgary and was considered the backbone of the team.
There isn’t an obvious frontrunner to replace Kiprusoff. The battle to be the Flames starter is expected to be between Joey MacDonald of Pictou, N.S., Karri Ramo of Finland and Swiss native Reto Berra.
Laurent Broissoit of Port Alberni, B.C., and another Finnish product, Joni Ortio, round out the five goalies at training camp, but lack the pro experience of the other three.
Calgary’s camp opened Wednesday with physical testing at the University of Calgary kinesiology lab. The first exhibition game is Saturday at the Saddledome against the Edmonton Oilers. Alberta’s NHL clubs will split their squads and host games in each city.
The Flames open the regular season on the road Oct. 3 against the Washington Capitals. Their home opener is Oct. 6 versus the Vancouver Canucks.
The Flames haven’t reached the playoffs in four seasons. The trading of longtime captain Jarome Iginla last season and the departure of Kiprusoff marks a new era for the hockey club.
MacDonald was Kiprusoff’s backup after the Flames plucked him off waivers in February. The 33-year-old is the most experienced goalie at camp with 122 NHL games split between Calgary, Detroit, Toronto, New York Islanders and Boston Bruins.
MacDonald’s record in the lockout-shortened season was 8-9-1 with a goals-against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .902.
“Most years coming to camp, most teams have their clear-cut number one,” MacDonald said. “Being in Detroit for so long, you always had an old guy there that you had to battle. This year, it’s going to be exciting. The opportunity is there and it’s going to be an exciting team.”
He started three of Calgary’s last four games of the season and signed a one-year contract in April that will pay him $925,000 this season.
Ramo, 27, played 48 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning between 2006 and 2009 and also has American Hockey League experience. He’s spent the last four years in Russia in the KHL.
“Tampa’s testing was two days and now it’s one day so I guess the rules have changed a little bit,” Ramo observed. “Now it’s about showing what you can do.”
The Flames picked up Ramo’s rights from the Montreal Canadiens in 2012 in the same deal that returned forward Mike Cammalleri to Calgary.
Current Flames general manager Jay Feaster was the GM in Tampa Bay when the Lightning drafted Ramo in the sixth round in 2004. Feaster signed Ramo to a US$5.5-million, two-year contract in July.
Kiprusoff is Ramo’s goaltending hero, although the Finns’ paths haven’t crossed much. Ramo has met him, but doesn’t know if he’ll have a chance to ask Kiprusoff’s advice about playing in Calgary.
“I really looked up to him when I was younger,” Ramo said. “He was one of the biggest idols for me. It would be really nice to play with him, but there’s not that chance anymore.”
Berra, 26, fills the net at six foot four and 194 pounds. Calgary gained his rights in the deal that sent defenceman Jay Bouwmeester to St. Louis in April. The Flames then signed Berra to a one-year contract with a base salary of $765,000.
All of Berra’s pro hockey experience has been in the Swiss leagues, so he travelled to the Flames’ summer development camp in July and returned to North America two weeks ago to learn the smaller ice.
“For sure, it’s a big difference, the ice in Europe and the ice here, but now I think I’m good to go,” Berra said. “For a goalie it’s nice because you probably get more shots.
“Everything is close to the net and maybe they try to shoot more than anything. I like to have a lot of shots.”
Berra’s 29-save shutout lifted Switzerland to a 3-0 win over the United States in the semifinal of this year’s world championship in Stockholm.
“It was pretty big. It was really a good game for me,” he recalled.
Switzerland went with former NHL veteran Martin Gerber in the final against the host Swedes, who won the gold.
Calgary’s unsettled goaltending situation will make training camp feel different for the veteran Flames.
“That will be an adjustment,” Cammalleri admitted. “That’s the first thing that comes to my mind with Miikka. Not many goaltenders have backstopped a franchise that consistently for that long.
“I guess it adds to the whole idea of turning the page and new opportunities for different guys. As a team we want to be great defensively and our goaltender is going to be part of that so it’ll be some healthy competition back there.”