SUN Hockey Pool

Leland learns a lot

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:45 AM ET

Turns out Leland Irving is more than just a puck-stopper.

The Flames goalie of the future also has a knack for deduction.

Irving, whose time in Calgary ended yesterday when he was sent back to his junior team, spent all his time in main camp teamed with Miikka Kiprusoff.

Every practice. Every off-ice session. Every day.

The goaltender, chosen 26th overall this summer, doesn't think it was an accident.

"It's a great organization and they're putting me in a position where I can learn just by watching Miikka Kiprusoff and all the little things he does," he said. "It just pushes me to be better and try to implement that into my own game."

If you're gonna learn, why not from the best? After all, Irving spent nearly a week with the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.

"I was just in awe to see Miikka," said the teen, who is headed to join the Everett Silvertips for their WHL season-opener Saturday. "I've been able to see the hard work he puts into his game on and off the ice and the things he does on the ice that makes him so successful."

Even with the news of his demotion, Irving's smile couldn't be wiped away. Not that it's a surprise, since he could still grin despite missing out on both the Flames prospect and World Junior team camps in the summer due to a groin injury.

Irving left the Stampede City believing he's vastly improved -- no small feat for a netminder who posted a 1.92 goals-against average last season.

Watching Kiprusoff will do that.

"The main thing about him is his ability to read the play and have the patience to wait out a play most of the time," Irving said. "His reaction time is almost inhuman, some of the saves he makes.

"I know this isn't my year but if I can come up here and learn as much as I can and develop, it'll be that much better for me when I go home. Hopefully I can have a good season from there because the Memorial Cup isn't too far off with the team we have this year."

For his part, Kiprusoff was duly impressed with the precocious player put in his hands.

"He looks great. He's a young guy and, technically, he's really good. It's been fun to work with him," Kiprusoff said. "If I have anything to teach him, it's nice."

KIPPER DEBUT: Fans at the 'Dome tonight won't just be treated to Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay's first action together. They'll also witness Miikka Kiprusoff's first game.

"It's good," Kiprusoff said. "Usually after the first game, it's a little easier to practice. You know a little better what you need to work on."

Last fall, Kiprusoff only played one-and-a-half games. The team's slow start had some speculating that light workload wasn't enough for him to be tuned up for the regular season.

Head coach Jim Playfair would hear none of that.

"How many games did he play last year in exhibition? And what did he win at the end of the year?" he said. "The whole deal with Miikka is we know he's a top player and we know top players have to be challenged and pushed through training camp to be ready to go. With Miikka, it's about setting him up to play the important games."

Kiprusoff said he plans to play around two games, using at least one full game and a couple of halves to fill it out if necessary.

"I don't think I need more than that to get ready," he said. "We have a lot of goalies here who need a chance to show. Jamie (McLennan) needs some games and the younger guys want to play, too."


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