Miikka Kiprusoff Tales: Stories of the legendary Flames goaltender

Calgary Flames legend Miika Kiprusoff spoke ahead of his jersey retirement ceremony, saying that he'll try not to cry once it happens but that it could be tough to contain his emotions in a moment like that.

CALGARY — As one of the only people on the planet who can get Miikka Kiprusoff to answer his phone calls, Jamie McLennan still chuckles over a recent attempt to contact his former tandem-mate in the wilds of Finland.

“I called and he didn’t answer, but I immediately got a text from him explaining he couldn’t make any noise because he was sitting in a tree, hunting, and it was minus-15,” said McLennan, who then received a selfie of Kiprusoff’s remote perch.

“I wrote to him, (former Flames goalie coach) ‘David Marcoux is looking for your number.’

“All he wrote back was: ‘34.’”

Kipper stories.

Everyone who knows him has plenty.

So although his on-ice accomplishments were legendary, it’s the man behind the mask we wanted to know more about by way of asking his closest friends and teammates for their favourite tales of the kid from Turku.     

That brief, dry, comical exchange from 15 feet off the ground says so much about the quiet, enigmatic Finn, whose number will be raised to the Saddledome rafters Saturday in a ceremony no one was 100 per cent sure was going to include him until his ever-scheming grin peered around the corner at Calgary International earlier this week. 

Ghosting the Flames, as he did so often to the media throughout his 10 years in town, would have been on brand for the eternal prankster who was known for going all-in on the first hand of the Flames charity poker tourney, losing, and then sneaking out the back door.

A recluse who lives with his family in Helsinki, but spends plenty of time hunting and fishing at one of his two remote cabins, Kiprusoff was one of hockey’s few rock stars, his mysterious ways and sublime netminding making him both fascinating and popular.

His mid-season arrival in town as a little-known prospect in 2003 kickstarted an organizational transformation that started with his modern-day record 1.69 goals-against average that season, which ended eight years of playoff-less hockey and landed the Flames one win away from winning the Stanley Cup.

He is almost single-handedly responsible for the birth of the Red Mile, not to mention the “Shirts off for Kiprusoff” chants that helped it go viral.

His astonishing run of seven straight seasons with 70 or more appearances earned him a nod as a Hart finalist, and a Vezina finalist three straight years.

The fact he didn’t show up to claim his Vezina, and only gave a 13-word speech when inducted into the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016, sheds light on just how elusive he is.

The way he sees it, the joke is on everyone else.

A notorious smoker whose morning ritual included chewing tobacco and his first of many hours of stretching, the laid-back netminder could easily fool people into believing he didn’t care.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sure, he saw the team’s fitness testing as optional, but what those around him during his legendary stint in Calgary will tell you is that he was the consummate pro.

His reaction to being scored against was as cool as he was when one of his practical jokes on an unsuspecting teammate was playing out.

“A guy you really had to watch because he was subtle,” said Robyn Regehr with a chuckle. 

“He really didn’t let a lot of people in, and wasn’t very open, especially with his personal life.

“But if he did, and trusted you, he was a lot of fun to be around.

“He has an extremely dry, but wicked sense of humour and if he found something to make fun of anyone, he fully immersed himself in that. He loved it.”

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Those times included the rare nights he’d join the team at a local watering hole, where his go-to move was to set himself up at the bar, order upward of 30 vodka/cranberries, and ensure every teammate who passed by never did so without a fresh beverage in their hand.

One of the men closest to Kiprusoff over the years was long-time Flames equipment manager Mark DePasquale, who figured ol’ Kipper left the team hotel “maybe five times in 10 years.”

“But he was always up to something,” said DePasquale, who called Kiprusoff “the most mentally tough person I’ve ever met.

“He’d pull a pen out of nowhere on the bench and he’d start drawing a picture of his dog on his pads. He’s a terrible artist, by the way. He’d do things like that just to get under my skin.”

His mysteriousness is part of his allure.

“If they weren’t having this night, you may not see him again,” said McLennan, Saturday’s emcee.

“I know he felt the love, but it will be nice to give him one more night of it.”

We’ll kick off the celebration with a smattering of his pals’ favourite Kipper memories:  


“Up untiI last year, I couldn’t even smell tequila for about 10 years because of him.

“In my second year in the NHL, I went out in Nashville with the whole team and Olli Jokinen said, ‘Whatever Kipper drinks, you drink.’

“I only lasted for an hour, did some of my moves on the dance floor, and then went straight up to the bathroom in my hotel room.

“It was rare to see him out, he did his own thing. But when he did come out, he liked to have a good time.”


“Most of the stories you’ve heard are probably true, but I can’t tell any of them.

“He might have done one fitness test, and that was enough.

“The neat thing about him was he would smoke and chew and all that, but he was dialled in when it was game time. He’d stretch for hours and kept the group loose.  

“He was one of those characters who made it fun to be on his team.

“He was definitely more vocal when he came out.”


“I was walking through the training room and I heard Kipper telling (DePasquale) he wanted a full wetsuit to keep him warm under his equipment at the outdoor game at McMahon Stadium.

“I told him, ‘You realize that doesn’t breathe — you’ll be extremely hot.’

“Well, the suit arrives and when we practiced outside the day before I see his face is beet red and I’m like, ‘How ya doing, Miikka? He says, ‘I’m so hot. This was a terrible idea.’

“We laughed about it.

“I don’t believe he wore it for the game, and he was the first goalie to pitch an outdoor shutout.”


“I was the goalie coach and we were having a tough stretch, so we’re having a pretty serious meeting with all the coaches and even (GM) Darryl (Sutter) came down.

“There’s a knock on the door, it’s Kipper, and he said, ‘I need to talk to my goalie coach.’

“He takes me into (trainer) Rich Hesketh’s office, and the shades are pulled and I think he’s going to talk to me about something serious.

“Instead, he’s on Rich’s computer and he shows me videos of a guy getting hit in the nuts, and a guy wiping out on a dirt bike like they show on America’s Funniest.

“He’s dying laughing, and I’m like, ‘You pulled me out for this?’”


“One of the stories I thought was funny was their second child was born in Calgary and they didn’t tell their families back home in Finland they were pregnant, and they decided to just surprise the family back home by showing up with a second child.

“He was a prankster who loved to have fun, and did a lot of things behind the scenes he’s never admitted to.

“He always had that look like he was up to something and he probably usually was.

“But when it came to game time he was dialled in and focused in his own way.

“Between whistles, there’s not a guy you’d want back there more than Kipper.”


“When we traded for him, I’m sure I went over and said ‘Hi,’ but for months I hadn’t had a conversation with him, which is fine because he’s a goalie and I’m a young guy trying to stay out of the way.

“Towards the playoffs I’m standing alone in front of the net at practice and all of a sudden I get a tap on the back of the leg, and he said, ‘Your hair is too big, get out of the way, I can’t see anything.’

“I turned around in shock, and said, ‘You speak English?’”


“He was a quiet guy, and shy, and my first thought was, ‘Are we getting a real guy here?’ But as soon as we got on the ice, I was like, ‘Oh boy, I think we might have something.’

“Isn’t that funny how a person can be so predictable on the ice and so unpredictable off the ice?”

“That run in 2004 would not have happened without Kipper and Jarome. 

“He made key saves, and kept us calm. He gave us a chance to win and he made us believe we could win every game.

“That’s why they’re retiring his jersey.”

JAMIE McLENNAN (who gets two stories as Kiprusoff’s bestie) 

“He wasn’t anti-social, just a homebody who liked to fish, hunt and be a good dad.

“He was also very generous and kind.

“My best friend died in a charity road race in Kananaskis, and while Kipper never met him, he called me and knew I was upset, and just sent a cheque for the family. It was a chunk.

“That’s what he was like.”


“Kipper fought Tomas Vokoun in Nashville and wasn’t able to grab him because he forgot to undo the Velcro on his glove, so he got hit a lot and clearly lost the fight.

“A year later he was riding the bike and watching Sportsnet, and the ticker says, ‘Vokoun has a blood clot.’

“He screams out and calls me over to say, ‘I told you I won that fight!’”

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