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Crease battles

by Laurence Heinen / Calgary Flames
Goalies Matt Keetley and Leland Irving have mutual respect for each other. At the same time, they’re competing for jobs in the Calgary Flames system.

Keetley and Irving were among four goalies taking part in the Flames summer development camp at the Pengrowth Saddledome recently.

“There are a lot of goalies in this system,” said Keetley, who spent some time with the Flames last season, including a nine-minute, two-save performance in relief of Miikka Kiprusoff. “I think that’s good, because it’s competition. What person doesn’t like to be competitive? I really think this organization is all about the competitive edge. I like the competitive edge.”

With Kiprusoff back as Calgary’s No. 1 netminder and Curtis McElhinney slated to be his backup, both Keetley and Irving are hoping to land jobs with the Quad City Flames of the American Hockey League.

“That’s the price you pay when you become a goaltender,” said Irving, who compiled a 27-24-3 record last year with the Everett Silvertips to go with a 2.45 goals against average and four shutouts.

“There’s only two spots on every team and there’s just a lot of good goalies out there. It’s not something that you can really get too worked up over. I’ve just got to focus on what I’ve got to do and that’s just to stop the puck and play my game and not overcomplicate things.”

General Manager Darryl Sutter included netminder Kevin Lalande, who backstopped the Las Vegas Wranglers all the way to the ECHL finals last season, into the mix of goalies fighting for jobs with the Quad City Flames.

“We see it as Kiprusoff and McElhinney and let the other three sort it out themselves in camp and just how they develop,” said Sutter, adding that “nobody’s going to replace Kiprusoff” but that depth at the goalie position is still a good thing to have.

“That’s what you’re trying to do is get somebody that’s going to elevate (his game). We have guys in different age groups, which is really healthy. At the same time, you need them to continue to improve.”

After his stint with the Flames last year, Keetley has set his sights on eventually making it back to the NHL.

“I’d like to say I’m a mile (away) because it gives you that extra drive to push yourself to that last inch,” said the 6-foot-1, 187-pound Medicine Hat native who went 10-8-3 with a 2.33 GAA with Quad City last year.

“My mentality is that I’m fighting for a job in the NHL. I don’t know if it’s there or not. You’re never going to know until the end, but I’m going to come in and I’m going to give it all I have. We’re going to see what happens in the end.”

While Irving could return to play for the Silvertips this season, Calgary’s first round draft pick (26th overall) in 2006 would like to challenge himself and move up to the professional ranks.
“I’m ready to move on and play pro,” said the 6-foot, 180-pound native of Swan Hills, Alta.

“Who knows where that will be? We’ve got so many good goaltenders in this organization. All I can really do is worry about myself. That’s up to the coaches and management to decide where we all fall into place. I’ve just got to go and give myself the best opportunity I can to play the highest level of hockey possible.”

Following the development camp, both Keetley and Irving plan to ramp up their training regimens to prepare for training camp in September.

“Starting next week, I’ll take a little time off after this camp,” Keetley said. “Then it’s skate every day and a workout every day. You really go to the grind and you really try to hammer away and get in really good shape for camp. You have to be in physical shape, the best shape of your life. My goal every year is to get a little bit stronger.”

Irving is looking forward to battling for a job in the Flames organization when he returns to Calgary for rookie camp where he hopes to advance to main camp as well.

“It kind of keeps you on edge and forces you to elevate your game to a new level,” Irving said of the level of competition for jobs at the goaltender position. “It’s nice to get back on the ice and feel the puck again and shake the dust off.”
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