Home, but for how long?

Many Flames fans may not realize it, but a hometown hero for youngsters to emulate is now in their...

Many Flames fans may not realize it, but a hometown hero for youngsters to emulate is now in their midst. (Sun Media/Darren Makowichuk)

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

For now, Curtis McElhinney plans to keep calling his hotel room home.

The Calgary Flames goaltender, who's won the back-up job behind Miikka Kiprusoff, is happy to be congratulated on being on the team's opening night roster. But he isn't about to assume he should be looking for a more permanent residence in his hometown.

"We'll see how that progresses," said the 24-year-old rookie, who'll soon be cashing his first NHL cheque.

Heading into training camp, the showdown for the No.-2 job was one of the few training camp battles to watch.

However, when Brent Krahn was felled by a knee injury, the position pretty much became McElhinney's by acclamation.

But it's worth noting he did all he could to earn the spot in the pre-season, which ended with a 21-save performance Saturday in San Jose.

"I felt pretty good after the San Jose game," said McElhinney, who was at the Saddledome yesterday to study video with goaltenders coach David Marcoux. "It was nice for me to get the opportunity to play a full lineup -- a team that dressed its lineup -- and I felt pretty good out there.

"It was reassuring to know I can play with these guys."

Now, with the Flames readying to open the season Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers, he's one of the guys.

It's a huge achievement for McElhinney, whose family moved to Calgary from London, Ont., when he was 12.

He was playing community hockey -- not double-A -- when he was 14. Nor did he make the top squad at Notre Dame high school his first year.

Eventually, he caught a break and made the most of it, soon earning a scholarship to Colorado College. He was then drafted in the sixth round, 176th overall, in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft before becoming an AHL all-star last season.

Many Flames fans may not realize it, but a hometown hero for youngsters to emulate is now in their midst.

"It's weird to look at it and reflect," McElhinney said. "When I meet younger kids, they're blown away to see you and you look at you like you're one of the stars of the world.

"It's pretty special."

The journey, however, is far from complete. As much as McElhinney deserves to relish making it to the NHL, he has to work even harder to remain a big leaguer.

In the foreseeable future, that means putting in the hours. There are no optional skates for the No.-2 goalie. He'll be on the ice extra long to work with the players not dressing for the game after the morning skates.

In a perfect world, he'll spend all season with the Flames, but that would mean he'll be lucky to play 15 NHL games. It's a tough spot to be in, but McElhinney knows his job description.

"I may play only 10 games all season, but it's about performing well in those games. But I'm not here to be a career back-up goalie. My dream was always to be a starter, but it's where I am now."


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