He's the hottest Flame with the coldest job, and Miikka Kiprusoff has a plan for staying warm while playing goal Sunday in an outdoor hockey game in Alberta, face to the wind, body to screaming slap shots, no heated bench for a comfortable retreat.
The key, he said coyly, could be in his water bottle.
"Will it be filled with hot chocolate?" Kiprusoff was asked after Friday's skate inside Calgary's Scotiabank Saddledome.
"Maybe," he answered. "I'm not allowed to drink anything stronger."
Okay, so the Finlandia vodka angle won't fly. But Kiprusoff has been prepping for his Heritage Classic date with the Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium on two fronts: by recalling his youthful days playing hockey in the frozen confines of Turku, Finland, with older brother Marko and their neighbourhood rivals, the Koivus, Saku and Mikko; and by playing shinny with his son.
For weeks now, father and five-year-old Aaro have been skating on the backyard rink at the Kiprusoff compound. The kid has been telling his dad it's not that cold out. The dad has been remembering what it was like getting stuck in net whenever his brother and the Koivus clashed on ice or played street hockey.
"We used a tennis ball and it would freeze and it would hurt," Kiprusoff said.
That was Kiprusoff's introduction to goaltending and playing outdoors; it was cold and it hurt. Fortunately for Kiprusoff, it wasn't enough to deter his passion for the position. He's not only carved out a stellar National Hockey League career, he's been the primary contributor to the Flames' remarkable turnabout this season.
At one point, Calgary was next to last in the Western Conference with Kiprusoff giving up goals and being benched like never before. Since Jan. 22, he's lost only once in regulation time and recorded nine wins as the Flames have roared back into playoff contention. The difference, he explained, has been a rebirth of confidence and a return to basics - strong positioning, good crease movement and an ability to make the right save when it counts.
"Kipper's been huge for us," team captain Jarome Iginla said. "He struggled a bit there, but he's back on his game."
As for Kiprusoff going the distance in a game where the temperature could fall to minus-19 with wind chill, Iginla remarked: "It'll be something to think about when I'm complaining [about the weather]"
Playing in goal is tough enough in today's NHL; playing it under intense conditions only magnifies the severity. Canadiens goalie Carey Price said he would use Saturday's outdoor practice at McMahon to gauge what to wear and how much of it. Too little and you risk a bad case of the shivers, too much and you have difficulty moving.
"For goalies, it's different," said Price, who had his own woes this season and now has 27 wins, second best in the league. "You could work up a good sweat, then stand there for two, three minutes and do nothing. I'll have to figure something out in practice. I really don't know what I'm going to do."
Price will unveil a specially painted mask for the Heritage Classic. Kiprusoff will not wear a tuque à la Montreal's Jose Theodore from the 2003 outdoor game in Edmonton. Instead, the Flames' goalie, whose older brother Marko was drafted by the Canadiens and played alongside Saku Koivo, will think about the days when he took a frozen tennis ball off his shins and just had to go out and play again the next day, whatever the weather.
"That was fun. This will be fun," Kiprusoff said. "I just hope it's not crazy cold."
Otherwise, the water bottle will need something stronger than chicken soup, right?
"I don't even know how to answer that one," a smirking Iginla said.Report Typo/Error