From crowded crease, Ramo named Calgary Flames starter for season-opener

CALGARY — The man who finished last season in the Calgary Flames’ net has been given the nod to start this season.

Flames head coach Bob Hartley named Karri Ramo his opening-day starter, but that settles just one question about Calgary’s goaltending situation.

The 29-year-old Finn will play Wednesday’s opener at home against the Vancouver Canucks with Jonas Hiller backing him up.

Ramo made 44 saves in Calgary’s final game last spring — a 3-2 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal.

But with three goaltenders on one-way contracts still in Flames’ camp Monday, there was an undercurrent of waiting for a decision from above to resolve the crowded crease.

“The only good thing about three goalies is we have another subject of conversation,” Hartley said.

“That’s about the only good thing that comes out of it, but at the same time, it’s our situation and we’re going to work with it and see what’s going to happen.”

Ramo became an unrestricted free agent July 1 and re-signed with the Flames for a year and US$3.8 million. Hiller, 33, has one season remaining on his contract that counts $4.5 million against the salary cap.

Joni Ortio’s contract becomes a one-way deal this season, paying him $600,000. The 24-year-old Finn had an outstanding call-up in January when Ramo was injured. Ortio allowed a combined five goals in four wins over division rivals.

Hartley intends to continue last season’s goaltending strategy of going with the hot hand until it goes cold. So it will be a short trip to backup status again as the coach isn’t shy about swapping goalies mid-game.

“Win. Simple as this,” Hartley said. “We have the same ingredients in net so we might as well keep the same recipe book. They win, they play. They don’t win, we have the musical chair going.”

The Flames reduced their numbers to 26 on Monday by assigning centre Markus Granlund to their new American Hockey League affiliate in Stockton, Calif. Centres Paul Byron and Mason Raymond were placed on waivers.

Not every team can have a Carey Price, so Hartley hopes the natural competition for starts gets Calgary’s goaltending to a level that wins a Stanley Cup.

Hiller posted a 26-19-4 record starting the majority of games last season, with a goals-against average of 2.36 and a save percentage of .918. He was stellar at times during a 6-1 stretch at season’s end to help the Flames secure a playoff berth.

The Swiss netminder was Calgary’s starter in the first round against Vancouver, but was on the bench the last four games of the Anaheim series.

“What Bob told me is whoever plays well, he keeps playing,” Hiller said. “Three guys here, so it’s a little different. I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen, but I guess who plays well is going to play. All I can do is play as good as I can.”

Ramo went 15-9-3 in the regular season with a GAA of 2.60 and a save percentage of .912. He raised his free-agent stock in the playoffs.

When Hiller gave up two goals on three shots to start Game 6 versus Vancouver, Ramo’s 17 saves in relief helped the Flames recover for a 7-4 victory and the series win.

Ramo took over for Hiller again in the second period of a 6-1 loss to open the Anaheim series. He stopped 18 of 21 shots.

“For me, I don’t care how many goalies there (are),” Ramo said Monday. “Every time I’m between the pipes in a game or in a practice, you focus on stopping pucks and try to prepare yourself as best as possible.

“Other people make decisions and . . . I’m sure they’re working on what’s best for the team.”

Working three goalies into a practice can mean less reps for all three, says Ortio.

“It might not be the ideal situation, but we’re going to just have to try to make it work,” Ortio said. “We don’t know how long this is going to go on.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press