SUN Hockey Pool

Battle of the backups

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

It's only been a little more than seven years, but it feels like a lifetime ago.

When the NHL held its entry draft at the Saddledome back in the summer of 2000, Brent Krahn's dreams were all coming true.

With a huge crowd of Flames supporters on hand to roar their approval, Krahn was called to the podium by the host Calgary club with the ninth overall selection.

It seemed a matter of time before the then-Calgary Hitmen netminder was about to hear those cheers regularly.

Turns out, more like a matter of a long time.

Other than a few pre-season tilts and his one-night stand serving as back-up to Miikka Kiprusoff in last spring's playoff finale loss to the Detroit Red Wings when Jamie McLennan was suspended, Krahn hasn't donned a Flames sweater at the 'Dome.

This year will be his best chance to call Calgary home for the season.

As it stands now, the Flames brain trust appears willing to give one of the team's prospects the chance to serve as backup goalie to star netminder Miikka Kiprusoff.

Likely, it'll mean playing only about a dozen games through the season seeing as Kiprusoff is such a workhorse, so the job description also entails plenty of work in practice and morning skates and learning the trade at the next level.

With the expectation you put together a winning record when given the chance under the NHL's spotlight.

Now the onus is on Krahn to wrestle it from the competition, namely his teammate the last couple of seasons Curtis McElhinney.

Which -- and this is good news for the goalie-rich Flames -- is no sure thing.

Calgary will have another couple of prospects in training camp this year, 2005 draft choices and first-year pros Matt Keetley and Kevin Lalande (rising star Leland Irving will be taking part in the Canada/Russia junior series), but it's hard to imagine one of them will be deemed ready for the bigs.

Especially when the last couple of years in Omaha for Krahn and McElhinney were building blocks a shot at the Flames.

Who will come through with the job remains to be seen. As well, who knows if they'll be able to hang onto the role.

Certainly it's high time for one of the Flames' prospect netminders to be given their shot.

Likewise, it's high time for them, at least one of them, to prove they deserve it.

Going back in time, Krahn was the one pegged to be here by now. But a pair of knee injuries pretty much wiped out the rest of his junior career and he's been plagued by inconsistency.

When he's on his game, Krahn can be incredible.

He had a run in the AHL when he posted four shutouts in five starts, a stint that included a perfect performance against 13 chances in a 1-0 shootout victory.

A theory in the NHL says goaltenders should be dominating in the minors before receiving their due in the bigs, and Krahn didn't achieve that last season, with a 10th-best goals-against average of 2.42, and a middling 14-12-0 record and .905 save percentage for the first-place Knights.

McElhinney had more of an impact AHL season.

His 2.13 goals-against average was second best in the league -- and the best of anybody with more than 30 games played -- and he also posted a .917 save percentage to go with a 35-17-1 record and seven shutouts.

He supplanted Krahn as the starter -- Krahn missed two months with a knee injury -- and was selected to the AHL's all-star game.

There haven't been many training camp battles in the past few seasons around the Flames.

Often, it's easy to figure out who will come out ahead before the skates hit the ice.

But this year, fans can look forward to a fight for an NHL job, with no front runner under the scrutiny to 'not lose' their position -- enjoy the battle of the crease.


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