Thursday, February 27, 2014

Joni Ortio's Flames Debut and Where it Ranks Statistically (and Historically)

When Joni Ortio makes his NHL debut tonight against the Los Angeles Kings, he will be the youngest goaltender to start a game for the Calgary Flames in over 14 seasons.

Ortio is 22 years and 318 days old. The last goaltender younger than him to start for the Flames was Jean-Sebastien Giguere in his last game for the Flames on Feb. 12, 2000. On that night, Giguere was 22 years and 272 days old. After that game, Giguere was returned to the Saint John Flames (AHL) and on June 10 in new general manager Craig Button's first trade, he was dealt to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for a second round draft pick in the 2000 NHL entry draft.

Notably, you have to go back to the previous calendar year to find Giguere's last win with the Flames, which came on Dec. 29, 1999. That night at the Saddledome, Calgary won 3-1 over the Mighty Ducks with Giguere stopping 32 of 33 shots as he outduelled Guy Hebert. So, when Ortio picks up his first victory -- assuming it happens this season, he will be the youngest goaltender to win a game for the Flames since that Giguere victory over Anaheim.

Important Clarification... and Where Matt Keetley Fits In

Important to clarify is Ortio will not be the youngest goalie to 'play' for the Flames since Giguere, he will be the youngest goalie to 'start'. On Nov. 5, 2007 in Denver, Matt Keetley (21 years, 192 days) relieved Miikka Kiprusoff and played the final 9:22 of a 4-1 Flames loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

That would be the lone NHL appearance for Keetley who didn't allow a goal and faced two shots. A fifth round draft pick in 2005 out of Medicine Hat (WHL), Keetley's four years in the Flames organization were spent in the AHL and ECHL with the exception of a few brief stints as the back-up in Calgary.

Youngest Flames Goaltenders to Make Their NHL Debut

Here are the 10 youngest goalies to make their NHL debut for Calgary. Note the absence of Giguere from this list as his NHL debut came as a 19-year-old with Hartford in 1996-97. In terms of debuts, Ortio is the youngest Flames goaltender to make his NHL debut since Tyrone Garner in the 1998-99 season.

Much like Keetley, Garner's NHL career didn't amount to much either. He made only three appearances for Calgary including two starts -- all coming in the span of four days, for career totals of 0-2-0, 5.18 GAA, .838 SV%.

The last Flames goalie, younger than Ortio, to win his NHL debut was Tyler Moss, who beat Tom BarrassoRon Francis, Jaromir Jagr and the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 on Oct. 28, 1997.

Included below is the date of their first start (in brackets) and their age in their NHL debut.

1. Mike Vernon (12-Dec-82), 19 years, 292 days
2. Trevor Kidd (03-Mar-92), 19 years, 343 days
3. Tyrone Garner (04-Jan-99), 20 years, 159 days
4. Tyler Moss (28-Oct-97), 22 years, 121 days
5. Joni Ortio (27-Feb-14), 22 years, 318 days
6. Doug Dadswell (22-Jan-87), 22 years, 350 days
7. Dany Sabourin (29-Oct-03), 23 years, 57 days
8. Andrei Trefilov (04-Nov-92), 23 years, 65 days
9. Leland Irving  (16-Dec-11), 23 years, 249 days
10. Jason Muzzatti (16-Oct-93), 23 years, 255 days

One notable omission from this list is Pat Riggin, who is not on the list because I went with NHL debuts with Calgary. Riggin's NHL debut came on Oct. 13, 1979, during the Flames last season in Atlanta. He was 20 years and 141 days old and had I included him, he would have been third on the above list.

Recap of Ortio Firsts

  • Youngest Flames goalie to play in a game since Matt Keetley on Nov. 5, 2007
  • Youngest Flames goalie to start a game since JS Giguere on Feb. 12, 2000
  • Youngest Flames goalie to make his NHL debut since Tyrone Garner on Jan. 4, 1999
  • (If...) Youngest Flames goalie to win a game since JS Giguere on Dec. 29, 1999
  • (If...) Youngest Flames goalie to win his NHL debut since Tyler Moss on Oct. 28, 1997

Monday, February 24, 2014

Sean Monahan Adjusts to Life as a Celebrity

Just prior to the Olympic break, I sat down one-on-one with Calgary Flames rookie centre Sean Monahan and get his take on how his first NHL season is going both on and off the ice. In our conversation, we covered a number of topics including:
  • His billet situation and the joy of home-cooked meals
  • How he deals with being recognized everywhere he goes
  • Strange requests he's received from fans
  • What it's like to see fans wearing his jersey
  • His take on the ever-popular @BoringMonahan Twitter account
  • His favourite moment of the season so far

In addition, I also picked the brain of veteran teammate Matt Stajan on his memories of being in the NHL as a teenager as there are some parallels from his situation as a rookie with Toronto to what Monahan is going through and I wanted to capture his perspective... although as you'll read, there were significant differences also. 

Here's the story that ran across The Canadian Press news wire on Feb. 2. It also appeared in the print edition of The Calgary Herald on Feb. 3.

Bonus Material

As can happen when writing feature articles like this, there is more great stuff than I had space for in the CP story. Here is a spattering of other random, yet relevant quotes from Monahan and Stajan, that didn't make the article, but would have been part of my 'Director's Cut' version of the article:

Monahan -- On his biggest fan -- his Dad

His dad is still living in Toronto and while that means he has only seen eight or nine games live – a far cry from having watched nearly every one of Monahan’s 205 OHL games over three seasons with the Ottawa 67’s, he still watches them on TV and Sean says he calls him regularly.

"I basically call him after every game or the next day, I'll see what the time is with the time difference. I talk to him a lot and it's a relationship I'll always have with him," Monahan said. "He knows that I have a lot going on so he keeps it easy on me but he always lets me know if I'm doing good or if there's something I can improve on."

Monahan -- On adjusting to being a popular player in a hockey-mad market

"It's a lot of fun, it's a challenge and so far, I've learned a lot and I think it's really benefiting me," he said. "A lot of people do know who I am here so you have to be smart in what you do and you have to be polite to everyone."

Monahan -- On the Flames road trip in late March to Ontario

"It will be pretty cool. Obviously I  have a lot of friends that haven't seen me play yet in the NHL," said Monahan. "Toronto, I lived right there so there will be a lot of people there to come watch me play and it will be a lot of fun playing in front of them."

"Ottawa will be nice too, playing junior there, my billets and some teammates that I've played with the last couple years might be there," Monahan said. "I'll be buying a lot of tickets for that trip."

Monahan -- On Johnny Gaudreau

While the Calgary Flames fan base is all gaga for Gaudreau these days, it's a different situation for the players, especially when you're a first-year player like Monahan, who is more concerned with his own game and continuing to improve. Monahan confessed he wasn't aware of how Gaudreau was doing this season (Spoiler Alert: He's doing not bad!) and hasn't kept in touch with him.

"I got to know him a bit but I didn't get to know him too well at development camp," said Monahan. "I played with him a little so I got to know him on the ice and he's a good player and he's easy to play with but I haven't really been keeping tabs on him."

Monahan -- On his season so far, including his shootout prowess

Asked what the most improved part of his game was so far, he said, "My full two-way game. I've learned a lot from my defensive zone out and it's something I always want to get better at. I've been working on it all year and from that first game until now, it's improved a lot."

Monahan has gone 3-for-6 in shootouts with all of them being game-winning goals.

"You've got to enjoy it. As a hockey player, that's the position you want to be in," said Monahan. "You want to be able to make the difference in a game. Getting the opportunity to do that, it's pretty special and capitalizing on a couple of them is pretty nice too."

He also admitted his shootout history prior to the NHL wasn't stellar.

"In junior my first couple years, I was pretty good at them but last year I think I was 0-for-5. It just comes and goes. You've really got to bear down in this league to find the openings in goalies and it's something I work on with Berra after practice and I think it's helping me."

Stajan -- On similarities/differences between his situation and Monahan's

"It's a different. It's 10 years apart and the game has changed. It was still the old rules then so there was clutching and grabbing and the game wasn't quite as fast as it is now," Stajan said. "For me, the biggest adjustment was getting stronger and playing against men. In today's game, you still have to make that adjustment. But if you get hooked, you don't have to battle through the hook, it's a penalty."

"He's a mature kid. We have a lot of veteran guys in here that are here to help him if he has any questions. He's like a sponge, he's learning on the go. That's what I tried to do. I just try to watch the guys around me. I was lucky enough to play with four or five hall-of-famers on the team -- my roommate was Joe Nieuwendyk that year. Just from being around those guys and watching and taking in how they handles themselves and prepare. As a kid, you just want to learn and that's what I wanted to do and that's what Mony is doing here."

Stajan -- On his experiences as a teen in the NHL and how he is trying to help Monahan

"I talk to him all the time because he grew up in Toronto so he watched the Leafs growing up. You try to take everything in. He's more comfortable now. The older guys always help you but at the same time, you have to make sure that you stay on an even keel. You don't want to get too high because you are in the NHL and you get excited. You don't ever want to get too low if things aren't going well."

Stajan -- On the veteran presence he had in Toronto and also the luxury of living at home

"I had that from those guys (Nieuwendyk, Sundin, Reichel, Francis) and I feel we're trying to do the same for Mony but he's a laid back guy to begin with," said Stajan, who also lived with his parents his first season. "It's the same situation with Mony having his mom here right now. It helps you just concentrate on hockey. You don't have to worry about all the things away from the game that if you're living on your own, it can be tough and living in a new city. You're 19 years old but you're still a kid at the end of the day. You can be mature but you still have a lot to learn and I think it's good for Mony and I'm sure next year, he'll be that much better off."