In the midst of David Rittich’s breakthrough season in Calgary a few years back, his name came up in a meeting that startled a few higher-ups.
“(Coach) Bill (Peters) was in a meeting with management and he said, ‘we gotta get him off the coke,’” said goalie coach Jordan Sigalet.
“He had a serious addiction to Coca-cola, but at first they were thinking he meant drugs. Shoot, he might be on that too, the way he is.”
He’s joking, of course, which is what everyone does around the quirky netminder who won’t take long to become a fan favourite in Toronto, as he was in Calgary.
“There was a water bottle with coke in it on the bench, so that came to an end,” added Sigalet.
“He’s gotten a lot better with his off-ice habits and looking after himself.”
One routine Rittich refuses to alter is his game-day ritual, which has him instructing his goalie coach to fire two shots off his mask.
It’s a tradition that started four years ago in the AHL when the rookie free agent signing out of the Czech Republic took two errant shots from teammates in the noggin during morning skate and wound up with a shutout that night.
“It started a tradition,” said Sigalet.
“It’s so weird – you’ll be doing a pregame skate and the other team is watching, wondering ‘what the heck is going on?’ I’ve got a muffin and I’ll admit to it, but if I had a hard shot he’d be concussed by now.”
Which brings us to Toronto where Rittich’s pre-game ask before Tuesday’s debut floored Maple Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere, who told InGoal Magazine, “I’ve seen it all now.”
However, it was Rittich who left the ice that day the most surprised.
“I didn’t expect he was going to shoot that hard,” Rittich told Sportsnet in a lengthy phone conversation Wednesday.
“He’s got a better shot than most players in the NHL. I’m not joking. I’m like, ‘where are you from?’ Even my screw from my mask fell off. I’ve got to talk to him and see if he can be a little less aggressive than he was.”
Most goalies are known for having a screw loose – nothing new there.
But Rittich’s playfulness, honesty and animation on the ice combines with his deliciously broken English to make him as likeable a character as today’s game has.
(Don’t tell Oilers fans, as they despised a post-game stick flip celebration that Jose Bautista would have enjoyed)
Fans saw Big Save Dave’s heart on display Wednesday when Rittich responded to a video of a disappointed four-year-old Flames fan named Oliver by calling to console him over the trade news.
He then sent the youngster a Leafs jersey.
Video of him arranging a heartwarming meeting between his autistic brother and Harvey the Hound a few years back is equally as compelling.
The fact that the Flames allowed Rittich to hitch a ride to Toronto on their charter after the trade says plenty about how well liked he is.
In a wide-ranging interview that included several moments when the 28-year-old fought back tears when discussing the emotion of leaving Calgary, Rittich talked openly about his disappointment over ice time and playoff snubs, as well as how appreciative he was that the Flames took a chance on him. He also addressed his run-ins with two former teammates Tuesday.
SPORTSNET: Brad Treliving said that discussions with your agent revealed you’d likely sign elsewhere next season. Is that accurate?
RITTICH: You don’t really know what can happen in the off-season. My point on that was I just want to play. The Flames bring in Marky (Jacob Markstrom) for six years and kind of showed what they feel about me.
When I saw they signed Marky I was okay – I was in same position before with Smitty (Mike Smith). I was just thinking I’m going to work hard and be great teammate and bring great attitude to locker room. All the things I usually do.
I just thought of all conversations I had with Wardo (coach Geoff Ward) and Tree, I’m going to have more opportunities to play than I had. Then I only played one game at the beginning. I thought he’d play a little more than me, but I didn’t think it would be that much more than me.
I’m a competitive guy and want to play every night. I hope I’m going to have more opportunity here with Toronto.
Have you been told what your role will be with the Leafs?
I’m not going to say anything. You can call the GM.
So many questions no one can answer right now. I’m going to enjoy Toronto and see it’s a really huge chance to win a Cup and do something special here.
What’s going to happen in off-season is going to happen.
I’m not looking at future, but present.
What was it like playing against your former team two days after the trade?
It was weird, I’m not going to lie. I didn’t expect something like that. First half of the game I felt awful. I didn’t play for two weeks and travel day before and packing – I went through a lot the day before, then I had a chance to play the Flames. It was the worst thing. I played with some of the guys for five years and I played with the big Flaming ‘C’ on my heart and then played them and sometimes I got scared when I saw guys with blue jerseys on.
Tell me about chopping Matthew Tkachuk and bumping Johnny Gaudreau on Tuesday.
I didn’t want to do anything but at the same time I’m like, ‘buddy, you kidding me?’
Sometimes emotions go through. That one on Chucky I wanted to give him a little one because he gave me a snow shower so bad.
When I saw I hit Johnny on the video, it looked bad but I didn’t mean to hit him. I wanted to go beside him and he kind of skated into me too. It wasn’t anything I wanted to do wrong with my old teammates – why would I? I hope they are still my friends.
Can I assume news of the trade was hard to receive?
Obviously tough one, right? Five years with the boys and – it wasn’t easy to say bye to them.
Some of the guys are going to be life friends I hope. It’s been awesome time to be a Flame and enjoy the city of Calgary and the whole organization and the opportunity they gave.
But it’s time to move on. I don’t think there’s a bigger deal than the Leafs in Canada, to be in this unbelievable organization from what I’ve seen the last two days.
How long will you keep playing with your old equipment, covered in blue tape?
That tape over my pads and gloves is unbelievable. That is a sticker over my mask! It looked like it was painted by the Leafs. I’m on it right now, trying to figure out how long it will take to get the new stuff. From what I saw of the pads, they are going to be loved here.
How disappointed were you to be overlooked by the club in each of the last two playoffs?
That’s a tough one.
Obviously the first year with Smitty, he’s got a lot of playoff experience and great goalie and is a person. I love to be with him. I wasn’t b----ing when they gave it to him – I take that. When they get guys like that, you’re prepared that can happen.
But last year I feel, I don’t know, it wasn’t fair a little bit. I played all season long and was in the All-Star Game. I don’t care about that, but there was a reason I was there.
Since Wardo came, I felt I’m not going to play because I felt he likes older guys. It’s just what I thought. I was working out and skating at home in pandemic and working so hard to be in the playoffs. Then I got to Calgary and what chance I had? I was thrown into the 3-3 game and they scored two goals right away and then I was pulled later. I don’t want to b---- on anything. I love Talbs (Cam Talbot), and nothing against him. We were both really good together and we are still in touch and we are still friends.
How grateful are you for the chance the Flames took on you?
This is a tough one (choking back tears).
They turned my life 360 points around. They found me in Czech league. Who does that?
They gave me opportunity to come here and to fight for my dream.
In my second year here, my dream came true and (pausing again to collect himself).
I love playing and love Calgary and everything they did for me and my family was awesome.
Was it emotional walking off that plane with the Flames for the last time?
That was a little better than the night before.
Every coin has got two sides. One side was sad I’m leaving Calgary and the boys. The other side is I’m going to a beautiful city and unbelievable organization with great fans.
What was the highlight of your time in Calgary?
So many memories (pausing).
First game, first shutout, first home shutout. Fun in the locker room. Be around super nice guys. So many memories. I can’t pick one. Impossible.
Any chance you’ll stop being so open and emotional in a bigger market?
Why am I supposed to change? I honestly think my personality is why I’m here.
It doesn’t make sense to me to change anything. Still same game. What’s the point to change?