Keetley goes with the Flo

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

Looking back, Matt Keetley figured the way it played out was for the best.

Undoubtedly, the Calgary Flames goaltending prospect would have preferred to be on the other side of the 3-0 result to the Florida Panthers in pre-season action last night, but the way he was thrown into the fray at the last minute actually made the process easier.

"Coming in, usually I'd be nervous even in the pre-game skate, but today I was relaxed and was just gonna have fun," Keetley said. "I don't get to play with the pro guys a lot -- the NHL guys -- and I was just enjoying being out there, making the saves and kinda mingling with them.

"I didn't have nerves until it hit me I was going in, and I think it was too late to be super nervous about it."

Keetley was pegged to serve as back-up to Curtis McElhinney for the pre-season opener at the Saddledome. But he went down late in warm-up after taking a shot to the groin and couldn't play.

Enter Keetley, the first-year pro right out of junior.

He hadn't even practised with the NHL-roster Flames in training camp. But he stopped 31 shots, including a trio of second-period breakaways, to give the crowd on hand at least something to cheer.

"There's quite a difference between that and junior," said Keetley, who backstopped the Medicine Hat Tigers to the WHL crown last year. "We had the rookie camp, and there's a lot of good players, so it kinda gets you prepared to come in, but I've got to work my hardest."

Head coach Mike Keenan didn't have a concrete update on McElhinney, likely the man to serve as back-up to Miikka Kiprusoff with Brent Krahn down with a knee injury.

"I think he's gonna be OK. I hope he's gonna be OK," Keenan said.

At least Keetley could be given the A-OK by Keenan after the game.

It wasn't a flawless performance by the 21-year-old chosen in the fifth round, 158th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He admittedly surrendered too many rebounds and battled with his positioning.

Still, he kept the Flames in the contest despite being greatly outplayed.

True, Keetley is a raw rookie, and he'll likely serve this season with the AHL Quad City Flames, but he did arrive with solid credentials, including playoff MVP honours last season, which ended in the Memorial Cup final.

"It's do-or-die there, and here it can be a do-or-die situation, too. You really want to give your most and leave an impression on all the coaches," Keeley said. "Both are probably two of the toughest situations I've been in."

Said Keenan of the goalie, "He was a peak performer. He really did a super job."

The same couldn't be said about the bulk of the crew Keenan chose to ice.

While some of the youngsters provided the effort Keenan was looking for, he wasn't too enamoured with his corps of veterans.

Olli Jokinen, Richard Zednik and Cory Murphy scored for the Panthers, while Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson shared the shutout.

The teams face each other again tomorrow in Saskatoon.

REPORT CARD

Goalies

36. Matt Keetley: Thrown in to start the game by surprise, he acquitted himself very well ... The best Flames player on the night.

Defence

3. Dion Phaneuf: Neutral-zone and offensive-zone miscues, including a giveaway, led to a pair of Panthers shorthanded breakaways.

21. David Hale: Inability to corral the puck at the blueline led to the odd-man rush that resulted in Florida's second goal.

28. Robyn Regehr: Big blueliner made a couple of players pay when he finished his checks ... Usual night with a plethora of ice time.

33. Adrian Aucoin: Kept deferring point shots to Dion Phaneuf while on the power play in the first two periods ... Appeared more comfortable playing with Regehr.

47. Tim Ramholt: Saved a goal tying up a Panthers player's stick while the puck was loose ... Jumped into the rush a couple of times.

55. Adam Pardy: Uneventful night for the big blueliner who could be a call-up candidate this season, which is a good thing.

FORWARDS

7. Stephane Yelle: How many vets will block shots in the pre-season? Does it surprise you he did? Us, neither.

11. Owen Nolan: Skated well in the first period and opened space for his linemates ... Willingness to be a bull in the offensive zone will pay dividends.

17. Eric Godard: Threw a few hits but took an unwise elbowing penalty in retaliation for a hit from Branislav Mezei.

18. Matthew Lombardi: Created a few scoring chances, including one on a give-and-go with Tanguay and another by using his speed.

19. Wayne Primeau: Made a breakaway for himself by working around the defenceman ... Must use his size and speed on the wing, which isn't his natural position.

23. Eric Nystrom: Most noticable killing penalties with Stephane Yelle in the first period ... He had a solid though not spectacular game in a checking role alongside Yelle.

24. Craig Conroy: Quiet night in a non-scoring role ... Most likely will be used more as a checker this season, seeing ice-time as a penalty killer.

25. David Moss: Skated on a kid line, with Dustin Boyd and Brett Sutter ... Wasn't in front of the net as much as expected.

40. Alex Tanguay: A couple of scoring chances were the result of his playmaking skills but passed up on a scoring chance of his own to dish away.

41. Dustin Boyd: Used his speed to create a few chances and draw a penalty ... It shows he's become stronger on his feet.

42. Brett Sutter: Must work on his strength and skating but put himself in good positions for scoring chances and in the defensive zone.

62. Kris Chucko: Drew the ire of Panthers goalie Craig Anderson by digging for a loose puck ... Unwise offensive zone penalty in the third period.


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