David Rittich giving Flames confidence, and a few chuckles

Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving joins Ryan Leslie to discuss why David Rittich has fit in so well on and off the ice, and give props to the three young d-men, in particular Juuso Välimäki and Rasmus Andersson.

Wearing the same goofy grin that has made him so beloved in the Flames dressing room, David Rittich proudly explained why he named his beagle Alvin.

"You know movie ‘Alvin and Chipmunks?’" asked the Czech-born backup goalie in wonderfully broken English.

"It’s from that. When we bought him it was a movie I saw. We didn’t want to give him a normal name so let’s give him that name. My wife said ‘yes,’ so it’s good."

There’s no need to ask why a 26-year-old man with no kids would subject himself to the shrill of Alvin, Simon and Theodore.

Rittich is simply a six-foot-three man-child, still soaking in all the wonders the NHL and North America have to offer an undrafted netminder.

And that includes owning his small dog.

"He’s still poopy," added Rittich, prompting a puzzled interviewer to push for clarification.

"Poopy. You know, it’s six months old. Poopy."

And there it is – one of the latest examples of a man still trying to grasp the language.

As it became clear to a passing teammate he meant ‘puppy,’ roars of laughter ensued.

That, as well as the ability to stop pucks at a tremendous rate of late, is what Rittich brings to the room.

Levity. Smiles.

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His approach is a welcome distraction from the pressures and seriousness of the business.

"He’s a well-liked guy – I don’t know if that’s because he knows five words of English," chuckled Flames GM Brad Treliving on Tuesday’s broadcast of a 3-2 loss in Montreal in which Rittich was the game’s first star.

"He butchers the language."

One thing he hasn’t butchered is the opportunity he’s been presented ever since the Flames signed him out of the Czech Extraliga in the summer of 2016 as part of the club’s mandate to cast a wider net to find players.

Signed to a one-year, two-way deal, Rittich moved to Stockton to learn the North American game and the language. He dominated, overshadowing the Flames ‘goalie-of-the-future’ Jon Gillies.

One year later Rittich was a late-November call up whose play was so good the Flames traded backup Eddie Lack to pave the way for the man to continue winning over teammates and Calgary hockey fans.

Despite a rocky second half and a shaky pre-season, Rittich’s superb play in three starts has been one of the most surprising developments of the Flames’ season thus far.

After stopping 44 shots in a 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden Sunday he earned a second start Tuesday in Montreal where he made 26 saves midway through the night before the Habs broke through. All told he made 37 quality stops in a 3-2 loss.

Matthew Tkachuk said after the game how disappointed the room was in letting Rittich down, pointing out "he’s not God back there."

He sure acted like it, saving 81 of 85 shots on the Flames’ two-game roadie, as part of a season stat package that includes a .950 save percentage and 1.83 GAA in three starts.

Jovial off the ice, Rittich is as animated on it as anyone in the league. After Montreal hit a post late Tuesday Rittich could be seen moments later tapping the iron with his glove, giving thanks.

As Calgary pressed for a tying goal with a late flurry in front of the net, Rittich’s arms were over his head as if to suggest he couldn’t believe the puck didn’t go in.

All that pales in comparison to his now famous arm-raising celebration a good five seconds before Johnny Gaudreau converted an overtime breakaway in Colorado.

"It’s Johnny Hockey so he had to score, no?" Rittich shrugged a day after Hockey Night in Canada showed the move from every angle.

"Good contract, good name."

Good vibes.

"That was a funny moment," said captain Mark Giordano. "You’re taking a 50-50 chance there of looking really confident and funny, or it could have gone the other way too.

"It’s good to have a guy joking around all the time and lightening the mood. We have a few of those guys in the room, which is nice."

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The role of the backup in many cities used to include being fun-loving and likeable, as most starters used to dominate the net. However, in today’s game, especially with a 36-year-old in Mike Smith in front of you, you need to be able to win a good chunk of your starts or the playoffs are a longshot.

Rittich seems capable of doing both.

"I think there’s a lot of personality in the league right now and you’re starting to see it come out in the players," said coach Bill Peters.

"Ritter is no different."

Rittich, incidentally, is playing for a contract, as he’s currently making $800,000 on a one-year pact.

Suffice it to say the Flames netminding landscape is an open expanse next year as the team will also have to decide whether it will re-sign Smith at age 37.

"He’s an elite teammate and it’s earned because he works so hard," said Treliving.

"You can’t help but like the guy. He works so hard in practice and when he gets an opportunity to get in there he gives our team a chance."

And a few chuckles.

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