Save of his life

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

Not partaking fully in the Calgary Flames prospects camp isn't the end of the world for Leland Irving.

It's discouraging and disappointing but the goaltender chosen in the first round (26th) of last month's NHL draft has suffered through and survived much bigger issues.

Like beating cancer.

"It is frustrating with the groin injury but there is bigger things in life," said the 18-year-old yesterday after a shortened session at the Don Hartman Northeast Sportsplex. "It's something that's gonna take time to heal, I need to take it easy."

Yes, it's a groin injury -- a recurrence of the malady that ended his season in the playoffs -- suffered early last month at a Hockey Canada camp. Recurring groin injuries in goalies is one of the worst possible fates.

However, it's nowhere near as bad as being eight years old and told you're suffering from a disease you can't say, spell or understand (rhabdomyosarcoma) but it may kill you.

"It was a life-changing experience for me," said Irving, sounding wise beyond his 18 years. "At the age of eight, you don't really know exactly what's going on. I think it made me a better person. I can appreciate life a lot more.

"I was just thinking a year of chemotherapy I'd be fine. I was not really thinking it was a life-threatening disease -- it could have gotten to that point but, luckily, we found it early enough and it didn't develop to be that bad."

Amazingly, despite weekly chemo treatments and all the struggles that come with it, he played the whole season.

"I think I missed one practice and one game because my blood count was too low and it was risking extensive bleeding," recalled the Swan Hills product. "Other than that, I was really weak but able to play through it.

"It was a long, gruelling process, a lot of sick nights, but I was able to get through that."

Last season with the WHL's Everett Silvertips, Irving was among the league leaders with a 1.91 GAA, a .925 save percentage and a 37-22-4 record.

Which means this week's camp was his first chance to impress the organization while a part of it.

Irving did take to the ice with the other netminders, along with the collection of skaters who joined in a day early, but came on part way through the session.

He did partake in a few drills by himself but didn't fully integrate with the others.

"We're kinda easing into the competitive stuff. I've got the right people around me, so it's just gonna take time for me to be back on the ice and compete," he said. "I'm hoping by the end of the week to be competing at 100 percent. Whether that happens or not, it's still early to tell."

There are 40 players and goalies on hand for the camp, among them Dustin Boyd, Kris Chucko, Tomi Maki, Eric Nystrom, Dan Ryder and Tim Ramholt.

The camp runs through Saturday, with sessions beginning at 8:45 a.m. It's open to the public.


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