When Miikka Kiprusoff went down with a lower body injury during the Calgary Flames 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, many people in the Stampede City were ready to throw in the towel. The man known as Kipper had been between the pipes for nearly 90% of the time for the Flames since he was acquired from the San Jose Sharks, back in November of 2003.
However, this became an opportunity for the Flames to finally get Leland Irving some much-needed playing time. After a stellar junior career with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League, the 2006 first round draft choice, has spent most of his professional life in the minors, waiting patiently for his chance.
There were many bumps on the road for Irving. Whenever it looked like he was finally going to get called up to the big club, the Flames would bring in another veteran goalie to back up Kiprusoff. From Curtis Joseph to Curtis McElhinney to Vesa Toskala to Henrik Karlsson, the Flames used a variety of second-string netminders to various degrees of success. (This is the first time Vesa Toskala and success were used in the same sentence.) Meanwhile, Irving sat back and waited, plying his trade in Abbotsford, while being told he was the goalie of the future for the Flames.
Irving was called up last season by the big club, appearing in 7 games for Calgary. The Swan Hills, Alberta native posted a 1-3-3 record with a 3.19 goals against average. Not exactly sparkling numbers. When Bob Hartley took over as head coach of the Flames this season, he told Irving he would give him every opportunity to make the team on a full-time basis. However, the lockout got in the way.
Irving was sent back down to Abbotsford to give him some playing time. He didn’t exactly set the AHL on fire either, posting a 2-3-1 record with a 3.71 goals against average and a 0.871 save percentage in 6 appearances. There were rumours that general manager Jay Feaster was looking to trade Irving, to give him a fresh start with a different organization.
But when the lockout ended, Hartley stayed true to his word and Irving went into the season as Kiprusoff’s backup. When Kipper went down on February 5, Irving was finally given a chance to showcase his abilities. Irving’s first start produced a Flames 4-3 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, in which the 24-year-old netminder made 26 saves in the victory. Irving came back down to Earth on Saturday, as the Flames were defeated 5-1 by the Vancouver Canucks, but you couldn’t fault Irving for the loss.
With Kiprusoff now on injured reserve with this lower body injury, the Flames have finally given Irving the reigns of the horse. This is his chance to prove to the team and himself that he is the goalie everyone expected him to be, since he was drafted. Personally, I hope Irving does well. He comes across as a solid individual, who never complained about being in the minors, while being told about his potential. Irving stayed classy throughout the difficult time, and kept working at his game. Patience is a virtue, and Irving’s patience finally rewarded him. Flames fans hope that Irving can reward them with their first playoff appearance since 2009.
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