At the end of the 2005-06 season, the NHL awarded the Calgary Flames’ Miikka Kiprusoff the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. The 30-year-old Finn topped that off by winning the William H. Jennings Award for giving up the fewest goals and was named an NHL First Team All-Star. His performance between the pipes that season remains the best that Flames fans have ever seen from a Cowtown goaltender.
The season saw Kiprusoff secure his place as the Flames’ franchise record-holder for wins and shutouts. On the season, he recorded a save percentage of .923, a goals against average (GAA) of 2.07 and 10 shutouts to edge out goaltending great Martin Brodeur and a young Swede named Henrik Lundqvist for the Vezina. He was also nominated for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player.
Kiprusoff was the toast of the town at the end of the 2005-06 season. As the first Finn and only Flame to win a Vezina, he was more popular than Jerome Iginla. Calgary’s mayor must have heaved a sigh of relief that year to learn that Kiprusoff wasn’t interested in a political career.
The Flames have not had a netminder of Kiprusoff’s calibre since he retired at the end of the 2012-13 season. In the seven years since, the club has wandered through a goaltending desert missing the playoffs three times and winning just one playoff series.
Calgary fans are hoping that Jacob Markstrom, another Nordic netminder, paired with Czech goalie David Rittich will deliver them to the promised land.
High Hopes for the 2005-06 Season
While Flames’ general manager Darryl Sutter had decided not to re-sign sniper Martin Gelinas at the start of the season, expectations of the team were still high after their Cinderella-run to the Stanley Cup Final in the 2003-04 season, even though they had not played together for a year due to the lockout in the 2004-05 season.
Sutter had brought in veterans Tony Amonte, Darren McCarty and Bryan Marchment to bolster the lineup, rookie wonder Dion Phaneuf was on the blue line while Iginla and Robyn Regehr were expected to repeat their playoff performances of 2004. The best part for Calgary fans was that Kiprusoff, a veritable goaltending stud, was backstopping the team. What was there not to like about the team’s prospects in 2005-06?
With visions of wild Stanley Cup celebrations on the Red Mile, fans opened their wallets for Flames tickets and all 45 home games along with every playoff game were sold out. The Pengrowth Saddledome was expected to be packed to the rafters all season long.
After a wobbly start to the season, the Flames went on a tear in November that continued into the season home stretch. They finished ahead of arch-rival Edmonton Oilers to win the Northwest Division crown and came in third in the Western Conference.
Many do not realize how difficult the 2005-06 season was for Kiprusoff and the rest of the NHL goaltending fraternity. Not only had most NHL goalies missed a year of play due to the 2004-05 lockout, but the rules had changed radically. Hockey had been opened up and scoring surged. Still, Kiprusoff managed to adjust his game and set both franchise and league records.
Of Kiprusoff’s talent, former teammate Jamie McLennan (now a TSN analyst) said, “I think after a while, people just got, for lack of a better word, spoiled by how good he was. You forget sometimes, but this guy could play 70 games every year and give you a chance to win every night. And you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it. For many years, you had that stability back there.” (from “20 to ’20: Calgary sporting icons of the 2000s so far – Miikka Kiprusoff”, Calgary Sun, 01/12/2020)
If it could be said that there was a downside to Kiprusoff’s play in the 2005-06 season it was that it hid a multitude of the Flames’ offensive weaknesses. The team simply couldn’t score. On the season, they eked out only 218 goals — well below the league average that year of 248. In the Western Conference, only the lowly Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues scored fewer goals than the Flames.
For much of the 2005-06 season, the team was stealing one-goal wins in low-scoring games because Kiprusoff was standing on his head. Yet this was the Flames’ Achilles’ Heel and it would be sure to cripple them in the postseason when opposing goaltenders rose to their best.
The team’s want of a scoring touch revealed itself very quickly in their quarterfinal series against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Flames’ shooters were stonewalled by Ducks’ goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and the team was eliminated in seven games.
A Bittersweet Season for Kipper
The season was as much a disappointment to Calgary as it was bittersweet for “Kipper,” as Kiprusoff was affectionately known around town. While no doubt the greatest honour in the life of a goaltender, the Vezina Trophy is best enjoyed accompanied by the thrill of a long playoff run.
In that respect, it is a pity the league did not award the trophy to Kiprusoff in the 2003-04 season when his stellar performance took the Flames to within one victory of the Stanley Cup. He posted a stellar 1.85 GAA during the playoff run and racked up five shutouts. Though he was named a Vezina finalist that year, he was edged out by the New Jersey Devil’s Martin Brodeur.
Former Flames goalie coach David Marcoux said of Kiprusoff, “It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t have a Stanley Cup, but the memories he brought during that time… It was fun time to be a Calgary Flames fan, that’s for sure.”
Kiprusoff Still Waiting to Be Honoured
Flames general manager Jay Feaster, speaking about Kiprusoff in 2013 on the announcement of his retirement, said, “Miikka Kiprusoff has been the backbone of the Calgary Flames since his arrival here in 2003, and every night for more than 70 nights per season, his magnificence between the pipes gave the team a chance to win. He inspired hope and confidence, and he made those around him better players as a result of his brilliance. Miikka will take his place in the pantheon of great NHL goaltenders, and his place in Flames’ history is secure. He will be missed by players, teammates and fans, and we wish him all the best in his retirement.”
For all of this high praise, the Flames have done very little to honour the greatest goalie to don a set of pads in the Stampede City. He is not a member of the Forever a Flame fraternity, nor has his No. 34 been retired.
If there was a season that anchored Kiprusoff’s place in Flames’ history and justifies the honours so far denied to him, it must surely be 2005-06.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames along with the OHL’s Ottawa 67s. A freelance writer and blogger, he is also a passionate old timers’ hockey player. Of his work with The Hockey Writers, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!” Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney