To be a goalie with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2020-21, you have to have a pretty cool nickname. Jack Campbell is Soup, Frederik Andersen is Fredzillia, and now there is Big Save Dave. The Leafs acquired David Rittich from the Calgary Flames for a 3rd round pick in 2022. He is an undrafted goalie out of the Czech Republic. He won’t leave the ice until he has pucks hit his head in the warmup. He practises with virtual reality goggles. He kisses the goal posts and regularly fist pumps. Rittich, a 2020 All-Star, is a self-professed emotional guy, and he won’t apologize for it.
Rittich has shown so much emotion since signing with the Calgary Flames in 2016. In fact, he worked with an old assistant coach, who he refers to him as his mental coach, back in the Czech Republic over the off-season. However, his outbursts still surface. In February, he was pulled during a game in Ottawa. On the way back to the dressing room, he slammed his head against the wall. Luckily he was still wearing his helmet.
“Mental” Coach has Helped his Development
A few weeks later, he was fighting back the tears in the post-game interview. He had played a brilliant game in net, but the Montreal Canadiens came away with the overtime win. Reporters were trying to put a positive spin on his performance, but he wouldn’t have any of it. “I don’t care. That’s why I’m in the net to help the guys out. It’s my job. I’m doing what I love. I’m playing hockey,” he said.
The reporters who have covered him for a long time were picking up on Rittich’s emotion. “You’re an emotional guy, and that is part of your strength, and this is a very emotional loss,” said a reporter. “The work you did in the offseason with your mental coach is that the stuff that can help you through the disappointment of tonight?” Rittich seemed to gather himself and responded, “I’m going to be ok tomorrow. It’s just I’m not feeling very awesome right now.”
The question showed how the Calgary media had gotten to know Rittich. Many questioned how the passionate goalie would react after the Flames signed Jacob Markstrom in the off-season. His response was something out of Jack Campbell’s playbook. “Why should I get frustrated? Hockey is a hard sport, and you have two spots for goalies.” With a smile, he proceeded to say, “I never had a bad attitude, so I feel like I came with the same attitude every year. I’m enjoying myself on the ice and in the locker room with great players and great people. The biggest thing is, which team can say they have two all-star goalies on their team?”
Bat Flip or Stick Toss?
Rittich also should be well known to Toronto fans. Not only for his stellar shutout performance against the Leafs earlier this season but his comparison to another Toronto sports icon, Jose Bautista. While Bautista holds the most legendary flip of the pine in Canada, arguably the second most famous flip came from Rittich. While the bat flip has become relatively common in baseball since Bautista did it in 2015, it had not been seen in hockey. On January 30, 2020, Rittich, who was the backstop for the Calgary Flames, tossed his stick in celebration after stopping the Edmonton Oilers Leon Draisaitl in a shoot-out.
Rittich was oblivious of the insult, “I just felt good after that game, and that’s it.” He was overcome at the moment, “I just did what I did. I don’t have any reason why I did it. I just felt like, you know, my stick was already almost there, so I just threw it. I didn’t want to compare to anyone.” Rittich wasn’t aware of the comparisons being made to Bautista’s flip, “I didn’t have any idea — I’m not really a baseball fan.”
But the story didn’t end there. The Oilers called out Rittich and used the slight to fuel them to an 8-3 pounding of the Flames during the next meeting, a fight-filled affair. The questions went back to Rittich for being responsible for motivating the Oilers. “I didn’t do it to make someone mad. I mean, we are not able to celebrate in this league anymore, or what? I didn’t want to do something wrong – I just celebrate, and that’s all,” said Rittich.
The Maple Leafs are hoping for a lot of celebrating with the addition of Rittich. With Andersen’s health still uncertain and Campbell dealing with a nagging injury, the former all-star goalie will get his chance in Toronto. There’s only one stick flip that can beat Bautista’s move in Toronto sports history, and that would be a toss after winning the Cup.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.