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Flames' prospect Irving ready to take next step

by Brian Compton /
Leland Irving is ready for a new challenge.
After five seasons with the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League, the 20-year-old is ready to tackle professional hockey.
Irving was grabbed in the first round of the 2006 Entry Draft (No. 26) by the Calgary Flames. While there's still plenty of time before the Flames should even consider replacing 32-year-old Miikka Kiprusoff between the pipes, the 2008-09 season will likely be the time when Irving becomes a pro.
With Kiprusoff as the clear-cut No. 1 goalie in Calgary, the Flames would like their top goaltending prospect to appear in as many games as possible. That's why Irving -- an Alberta native -- will most likely wind up with the Quad City Flames in the American Hockey League.
It's a destination where Irving has no problems heading.
"I would love to," Irving told "I'm ready for a new challenge and ready to move on and play pro hockey. We've got so much depth here in Calgary that it's hard to say where I'll end up. But I'm not going to worry about that right now. That's something for management and coaches to decide. All I can do is stick to my thing on the ice and try not to over-complicate things. I just have to play my game, and I'm sure everything will sort itself out. But it'd definitely be nice to be in Quad City next year."

"There's all sorts of pressures whenever you're coming into an NHL camp, no matter where you're drafted."
Leland Irving

Judging by his numbers, Irving appears ready to take the next step in his career. In 56 games with Everett last season, Irving went 27-24-3 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. During his last three seasons in Everett, Irving won 98 contests and was unquestionably one of the WHL's top goalies.
"I got off to a fairly slow start," Irving said of last season. "It took me a while to get my timing back and I had to iron out a few things. Right after Christmas, it seemed like things turned 180 degrees. I got my game back on track and had a real good run towards the end of the season. Unfortunately, we lost to the Spokane Chiefs in the first round."
Now that it appears Irving will soon be playing professionally, he'll be able to move one step closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream. Although he grew up in Alberta, Irving was neither a fan of the Flames nor the Edmonton Oilers. He rooted for the Vancouver Canucks -- and his favorite goaltender.
"Growing up, I was a big Kirk McLean fan," Irving said of the goalie who helped the Canucks reach the 1994 Stanley Cup Final, when they lost in seven games to the New York Rangers. "It's kind of opposite styles, but he was my guy growing up. I was a Canucks fan growing up. When I first got into hockey, they made their run to the Cup final and they were the only Canadian team to go real far."
Twelve years later, Irving and his family had reason to celebrate as he was drafted in the first round by the Flames. While the road to the NHL is undoubtedly a bumpy one, it may be even more difficult for Irving to convince his family to cheer for Edmonton's fiercest rival.
Nonetheless, Irving couldn't be happier to be a part of Calgary's organization.
"Going into the draft, I kind of had a feeling there was a chance I might end up here," Irving said. "Luckily enough, I did. It's nice and close to home. Unfortunately for a lot of my friends and family who are from up north, a lot of them have to convert to Flames fans. It's been great and it's obviously a great organization. I'm really liking it here."
With Kiprusoff in Calgary, Irving has plenty of time to continue his development. When he arrives in the NHL, however, he'll be forced to live up to the expectations of a first-round draft pick. On top of that, he'll likely be compared to Kiprusoff on a nightly basis.
For Irving, though, it's all part of a day's work. He's ready to clear any hurdle placed in front of him and ready to prove to Calgary's scouts that their assessments of him were accurate.
"There's all sorts of pressures whenever you're coming into an NHL camp, no matter where you're drafted," Irving said. "Being taken in the first round adds a little bit more, but it's not something you can let get the best of you. I've just got to keep things as simple as I can and try not to do too much. Sometimes when I do that, things get a little scrambly in my game and I'm not positionally sound."
As for a timetable regarding his arrival in the NHL, Irving is more concerned with simply being NHL ready when that day does come. He realizes a 50-game workload with Quad City would be much more beneficial than being Kiprusoff's backup in Calgary. Certainly, he'll get every opportunity to be the No. 1 netminder for the Flames' top affiliate.
"I'm just going to take one thing at a time, but the sooner the better," Irving said. "I think it would be more beneficial for my game just to get a lot of experience and to get a lot of games in the next year or so. From there, who knows? Anything can happen."
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