SUN Hockey Pool

Battle of backups heats up

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

As Brent Krahn limped out of the Saddledome yesterday, his fellow goaltending prospects netted extra ice-time.

He can only hope his sore knee -- the same one that cost him two months last season with the Omaha Knights -- won't also cost him a shot at the Calgary Flames' backup job.

Head coach Mike Keenan's comments after practice yesterday might make Krahn feel a little better this morning as the veterans report for fitness testing.

Keenan said the battle has yet to begin to determine who earns the right to play behind Miikka Kiprusoff.

"I haven't spent a lot of time evaluating them right now. I want to see them against big shooters," said Keenan. "There's a different level of competition and quickness when the puck is coming at you off an NHL stick. That's what they're going to be evaluated on."

Krahn missed his third straight day, and rumblings are he could miss another week before getting a chance to show his stuff during the exhibition schedule. Meanwhile, Curtis McElhinney, Matt Keetley, Kevin Lalande and Leland Irving are about to see what they're made of with pre-season contests Sunday and Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.

"For some, it's a reality check," said Flames goaltending coach David Marcoux. "Now, all the stakes have gone up. Great things happen when competition is in play. It pushes individuals to go at a higher level than they've always been. When you start facing the NHL shots and the NHL speed, that's the adjustment that you have to make.

"This is where we're going to find out how many goalies are able to make that extra step. For some, it'll be a huge confidence booster. For others, there'll be an adjustment."

Some believe the best goalie will not win the battle and that the No. 3 guy will back up Kiprusoff while the No. 2 backstops the Quad City Flames where they will see more ice time. The Flames, though, claim the best goaltender will win the NHL job.

Age and experience won't necessarily matter.

"I think the best answer is, they'll sort it out," said Keenan. "We'll see if experience plays a part of it or inexperience plays a part of it.

"I've had a lot of Vezina Trophy winning goalies and Conn Smythe winning goalies. Some of them were very young, and some of them were, in relative terms, old.

"The comment most make is it usually takes a lot more experience and time, but we've had a couple young guys who came in and were a big part of the reason our teams were successful."

Marcoux agrees the younger guys -- Keetley, 21, and Lalande, 20, are entering their first pro seasons, while Irving, 19, is entering his fourth year with the WHL Everett Silvertips -- can challenge for the backup job.

"I think it comes in terms of where he's been and what has he done. What has he been involved in, in terms of dealing with different situations?" Marcoux said. "You can be 25 years old and not have been put in certain situations that a 20-year-old has been in."

Keetley's Memorial Cup experience with the Medicine Hat Tigers has boosted his confidence, and Irving is a man beyond his years with international experience under his belt and a mental makeup that seems to mirror Kiprusoff's cool demeanour.

But there are no favourites at this point.

"The goalies will be deciding. They'll be either making our decision very easy or they'll be making it very difficult," said Marcoux.


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