It’s been established that the Calgary Flames are a whole new team this season, playing with more speed, energy and heart than they have in the past few years. That’s all thanks to the plethora of young new players under the guidance of seasoned vets. But what hasn’t been established yet is the answer to one of the biggest questions haunting the franchise: who is the Flames’ starting goaltender?
In the wake of Miikka Kiprusoff’s retirement, the Flames have alternated between Karri Ramo and Joey MacDonald for the starting role thus far, in hopes of finding an answer to this question. Yet it has been one full month, and although Ramo and MacDonald have had their share of great games, they’ve also had their share of bad ones, and the question remains unanswered.
This past week, all three hopeful goaltenders had their chance in front of the net. Against the Toronto Maple Leafs it was Karri Ramo. Toronto hadn’t won a game in the Saddledome in quite some time, and Ramo, looked to stymie them once again.
But just like the Flames, the Leafs are a completely different team of late, and are riding high on a hot streak. And they wasted no time showing the Flames how hot they really were.
Joffrey Lupul opened up the game’s scoring with a wrist shot just under the halfway point of the first, and James Van Riemsdyk doubled up Toronto’s lead with seconds to go in the first period, with a short-handed goal on a slashing penalty to Dave Bolland.
The second only produced one goal, (although Calgary outshot Toronto 20 to 8) courtesy of Matt Stajan, which came late in the period to bring the Flames within one.
The Flames and Leafs each nabbed a goal to keep the deficit to one throughout most of the final frame, but Paul Ranger’s empty-netter in the dying seconds of the game secured the Leafs’ victory.
In the goaltending showdown, Jonathan Bernier emerged the winner by a long shot, stopping 41 shots to Ramo’s 19. The Maple Leafs beat the Flames at home for the first time in years, 4-2.
It didn’t get any easier for Calgary as they faced the Detroit Red Wings two days later. Joey MacDonald had the daunting task of keeping pucks out of the Flames’ net against the man with the magic hands, Pavel Datsyuk, and his equally-as-skilled sidekicks Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.
And it was the first two aforementioned Red Wings who got the ball rolling for their team. Wristers by Datsyuk and Zetterberg gave Detroit a 2-0 lead to wrap up the first.
The Flames were not deflated, however, and fought back in the second to even things up. Chris Butler’s powerful slapshot found the back of the net halfway through the period. Minutes later, Sean Monahan’s wrister gave him his 7th goal of the season, one up on The Magician himself.
All tied up heading into the third period, the Red Wings took flight, scoring back-to-back goals. Curtis Glencross managed to sneak one past Jimmy Howard with under a minute to go before the final buzzer, but it was too little too late for the Flames, who fell 4-3. It was Calgary’s second loss in regulation at home to date.
After two losses in a row, it seemed that the Flames would be handed their third as they headed to The Madhouse to face the Chicago Blackhawks. And this time it was rookie Reto Berra, called up from the juniors, who was starting in net.
Making his NHL debut against the defending Stanley Cup champions, you could imagine what a bundle of nerves Berra was, but if he was nervous at all, it didn’t show. Of the 44 shots he faced, Berra stopped 42, with a couple of saves being worthy of a Miikka Kiprusoff highlight reel.
Throughout the game, the Flames and Hawks alternated goals with two apiece, from Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa for Chicago, and Mike Cammalleri and Curtis Glencross for Calgary.
But once Hossa had tied the game 2-2, Berra became a door and forced the game into overtime.
Blueliner Kris Russell made sure that fans didn’t get too much extra hockey for their money, banging in a slapshot just minutes into the extra frame, to lift the Flames over the Hawks 3-2.
In his very first NHL game, Berra’s impressive play has earned him a second look from Flames’ management. Joey MacDonald was sent down to the AHL shortly after the win over Chicago, in order to give Berra the chance to battle his way into the starting goaltender position.
At 26, Berra is the youngest of the three netminders vying for the position, and the most inexperienced. But having him win the coveted spot would fit so nicely into the Flames’ unfolding storyline of young, unexpected underdogs surprising the league with brilliant plays and winning ways.
Graduate of Mount Royal University’s Journalism program and a freelance sports writer from Calgary, Alberta.