CALGARY – With captain Jarome Iginla sidelined for the second straight day and Jiri Hudler gone to attend to a family emergency, the Calgary Flames were looking for something to spark the team at practice.
Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff came through Monday when he made a highlight-reel save to deny forward Roman Horak from scoring what seemed like a sure goal during an intense scrimmage.
Kiprusoff slid from right to left across his crease and stretched his right leg out to make a pad save to turn aside Horak’s shot.
“That’s why he’s one of the best goalies in the NHL,” said Horak, who one-timed a saucer pass from Tim Jackman. “I just tried to put it on the net. Maybe I could have tried to receive it and then shot it. It was an unbelievable save.”
After the save, many of the 250 or so fans in attendance at the Scotiabank Saddledome started chanting, “Kipper, Kipper.”
“I think sometimes he even gives you an extra second to take it away from you,” said defenceman Mark Giordano. “Some of the saves he makes are amazing. That’s just his athleticism. He’s so good at getting post to post.”
While Iginla missed training camp for the second straight day with a groin injury, Hudler was granted a leave of absence to return home to the Czech Republic where his father has been admitted to hospital.
“We told him to take care of his dad,” said Calgary coach Bob Hartley, while adding there’s no timeline as to when Hudler will return. “He’ll be in touch with us. Hockey really is important in everybody’s life, but your family always comes No. 1.”
Curtis Glencross and Matt Stajan scored goals during the scrimmage for Team Red, while Mikael Backlund was the lone player from Team Black to slide a puck past Kiprusoff.
Flames coaches and players said they weren’t surprised to see that their No. 1 goalie is already in mid-season form just six days before Calgary’s home opener on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks, Kiprusoff’s former team.
“You saw vintage Kipper again with that one save,” said goalie coach Clint Malarchuk, while noting that Kiprusoff arrived at camp in great shape. “He’s a veteran guy that knows what to do.”
When asked about the save, Hartley replied that “Kipper was just Kipper,” adding that he rates Kiprusoff as one of the top-five NHL goalies.
“I have the old line that ‘You name me a good goalie and I’ll name you a good team,'” Hartley said. “I know that Kipper’s going to be big for us. He’s working hard. He’s very positive. He’s eager to get going and so is the rest of the team.”
During the lockout, Kiprusoff often skated with his teammates at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre.
“He’d be missing for a couple weeks spending time with his family and then he’d show up out of the blue on a Tuesday and he’d be doing the same thing,” Stajan said. “I don’t think it matters with Kipper. He’s one of the best goalies in the world for a reason. His skill level is just unbelievable, the way he reads plays and his quickness. It’s second to none and we’re lucky to have him.”
Defenceman Dennis Wideman, who the Flames signed as a free agent in the off-season, said that he’s used to watching highlights of Kiprusoff’s amazing saves and that he’s excited to be on the same team as the veteran netminder.
“I’m sure he’ll bail me out a few times over the course of the year,” said Wideman, who had 11 goals and 25 assists in 82 games with the Washington Capitals last season. “Whenever you have a goalie like that playing behind you, it definitely gives you some more confidence to make some plays and put a little more pressure on guys.”
Prior to the scrimmage, Hartley and his coaching staff put the Flames through an intense 1 1/2 hour practice.
“Every time we step on the ice, we step with a purpose and that purpose is obviously to execute very well, but at the same time to have NHL game intensity,” Hartley said.
That intensity carried over into the scrimmage, which featured NHL referees and linesmen.
“This was really, really high-tempo,” said Horak, who has already scored 14 times and added five assists in 35 games this season with the Abbotsford Heat, Calgary’s American Hockey League affiliate. “I would say it was a little more (intense) than an AHL game for sure.”
The Flames have another scrimmage scheduled for Wednesday, and Glencross said he expects that the intensity level to be ramped up yet another notch.
“We’re not getting any exhibition games, so we have to take advantage of these scrimmages, because that’s as close as we’re going to get to game situations,” Glencross said. “We’ve got to be ready to go when the puck drops. If it takes an intense scrimmage like that, that’s what we’ve got to do.”