CALGARY, AB -- The path to the NHL hasn't been a clear-cut one for goaltender Leland Irving.
Drafted in the first round, 26th overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Irving has earned his role as the Heat's starting netminder with determination and an unwavering work ethic. He has had to jostle with other goalies for ice time in his first two professional seasons and spent some time in the ECHL with the Victoria Salmon Kings after faltering a bit in the 2009-10 campaign.
He came into the 2010-11 season looking to solidfy the starter's position in Abbotsford and was able to do just that. He led the AHL in games played (61) and shutouts (8) while posting a 2.30 GAA and a .913 save percentage. His 30-24-2 record was good for second in wins in the AHL and was named the Abbotsford Heat team MVP.
Now, all those years of hard work are paying off. The Flames recalled Irving on Monday in response to Henrik Karlsson being placed on the injured reserve with a sprained MCL and while there is no guarantee when the Swan Hills, AB native will get his first NHL start, he's just happy to be with the team.
"I'm very excited," Irving told CalgaryFlames.com. "When you're growing up as a little kid, you dream of these days. It's just great."
Irving is in the midst of another stellar season in Abbotsford. He sits top in the AHL in quite a few categories - games (23), wins (15), and shutouts (three) - and was named the AHL's Player of the Week in the middle of November. His save percentage currently sits at a respectable .914 and while his GAA through 23 games is 2.30.
The 23 year-old credits a lot of things to his development but can pinpoint one aspect of his game that has greatly improved over the past couple of years.
"It's got to be a combination of a lot of things," Irving said. "You gain experience, which helps you handle different situations.
"Probably the biggest thing is my tracking the puck, something I just started working on with a goalie coach named Lyle Mast a couple summers ago."
The netminder knows it sounds fairly rudimentary but it is a base skill that Irving feels is essential to master and has aided him greatly.
"Watching the puck all the way into my glove or my blocker ... becoming more efficient has really allowed me to take that next step and progress as a goaltender."
Irving's time with Flames depends solely on Karlsson's recovery time and he wants to glean as much from the experience as possible. He considers this a major stepping stone in his career and believes what he learns from his stint in Calgary will be another pivotal chapter in his evolution as a goaltender.
"It's not without a lot of help and coaching from a ton of people, for which I'm thankful," he said. "It's a very exciting time for me."