San Jose Zero to Calgary Hero: The Miikka Kiprusoff Story

Essay by adj_94 May 2004

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In a span of four months, this goaltender has been likened to nimble legend Dominik Hasek, and the media has stated that he is a combination of Patrick Roy's celebrated unflappability and Martin Brodeur's supreme positioning. He has been everything to his team, and with his arrival the franchise has gone from playoff dreamers to playoff contenders.

Miikka Kiprusoff was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the fifth round, 116th overall, in the 1995 Entry Draft. After biding his time in the minors, Kiprusoff was called up in 2001 to backup the eventual Calder Trophy winner (for best rookie), Evgeni Nabokov. San Jose had recently established themselves as Stanley Cup contenders, and with captain Owen Nolan and sniper Teemu Selanne at the helm, everything seemed peachy-keen for the Californian club. But with the holdouts of Nabokov and young defenseman Brad Stuart, the Sharks were forced early on to make do with what they had, which they quickly realized was far from enough.

In Nabokov's absence, Kiprusoff was expected to step up, but was unimpressive in what would result in a 5-14-0 record, a gargantuan 3.25 goals against average, and a dreadful .879 save percentage. Inevitably, as it is with the game, Kiprusoff's briefly rising star was overtaken by Vesa Toskala, who outplayed "Kipper" to a season where San Jose fell hard from the penthouse to the pavement.

The offseason was a time for change in San Jose. By that time, they had rid themselves of Nolan, Selanne, general manager Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter, who would get hired by the middling Calgary Flames organization in the waning months of the previous season. Kiprusoff didn't know it then, but Sutter would be his way back to the NHL after this offseason purge left him back in the minors.