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Irving makes big strides

by Dhiren Mahiban / Calgary Flames

 The Abbotsford Heat, the Calgary Flames top affiliate in the American Hockey League, come to Calgary for a game February 18 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The Heat will take on the Oklahoma City Barons, the top affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers.

See top Flames prospects like Leland Irving, Greg Nemisz, Matt Pelech and others up close.

And, from Feb. 15-18, leading up to the game, will have features on some of the top prospects.

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It was just over a year ago, Jan. 28, 2010 to be precise, Leland Irving was packing his bags for Victoria of the East Coast Hockey League – at 21-years of age he was being demoted for the first time in his professional career in favor of goaltender David Shantz.

Looking back, Irving calls the moment the lowest point in his career; the Swan Hills, AB native was 11-15-2 with a 2.68 GAA and a .909 save percentage with the Abbotsford Heat.

“It was a pretty frustrating time in my hockey career for sure,” recalled the six-foot, 176-pound goaltender. “It’s one of those things you've got to just deal with it and keep working hard – do whatever it takes to get back playing at the highest level that you’re capable of.”

It all seems like a distant memory now as Irving is in the middle of a career year – his next win will set a new career high at 25 and he’s already established a new personal benchmark for shutouts with five.

“The biggest difference is probably just tracking the puck,” Irving explained. “I worked with a guy named Lyle Mast this summer and really focused on head trajectory - just really simplifying my game and becoming a lot more efficient.

“You’re never going to be able to move as fast as the puck, but if you can be efficient enough to be in the right spots so it can hit you, you’re going to make a lot of saves.”

The Flames 2006 first-round pick (26th overall) has a 24-16-2 record with a 2.31 GAA and a .912 save percentage. Irving leads the American Hockey League in wins, shootout wins (9) and is tied for second in the league in shutouts.

Irving’s nine shootout wins in a single season set a new AHL record. The Flames prospect also leads the league in minutes played and games played.

Of all the numbers it’s the ‘W’ column, which a humble Irving is most happy with.

“The wins is definitely the most important so I just got to keep playing one game at a time and I can’t get too ahead of myself – I can’t get caught up in the numbers,” he said. “It is nice, you can pat your back at the end of the day, but in the big scheme of things, the only thing that matters is winning.

“We got to get into the playoff first and foremost and then we’ll see what happens from there.”

Irving is coming off a week in which he went 4-0-0 with a .964 save percentage and a 1.00 GAA, registering two shutouts and turning aside 104 of 108 shots. His impressive numbers had him as a nominee for the Reebok/AHL Player of the Week.

His stellar play over the last week did not go unnoticed by teammates either.

“Leland’s been playing real well,” said defenceman Gord Baldwin. “He spends a lot of time in the gym and doing video. He works really hard so it pays off.”

Added Ryan Stone, “He’s been awesome. (In Rochester) he got the shutout – he does what he has to do to get us in the playoffs and win playoff games. I think he’s all geared up for it.”

According to Heat head coach Jim Playfair, Irving is starting to show signs of his game from earlier in the year prior to a November groin injury.

“I think early he was really good, he was really solid – he had confidence that he was the number one guy,” Playfair said. “I think when he got hurt, he hasn’t been as strong until the last Rochester game (Feb 9).

“I thought in Rochester he was for sure the first star of the game, he was the best player on the ice for both teams and he was really square and confident.”

At the start of the season Playfair stressed the importance for one of his goaltenders to step up and be a third option for the Calgary Flames. Through the first 56 games of the 2010-11 season it appears Irving could be that option; however, the puck stopper wasn’t taking the bait on possibilities with the big club.

“All I can do is control myself and I’m just going to go out and play the best hockey that I can each and every night,” he said. “Usually if you play well – things like that take care of itself.”

For regular updates on the Abbotsford Heat follow Dhiren on Twitter:


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