Calgary product anxiously awaits second chance

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

The NHL debut -- a moment all youngsters dream of -- didn't exactly go according to plan for Curtis McElhinney.

Now, the Calgary Flames goaltnder is biding his time waiting for the shot at redemption, when it comes.

"It was nice to get in but it wasn't perfect, and I wanted it to be perfect the first game," McElhinney said. "It was in the back of my mind for the first little while. I'd say it had nothing to do with the way that first game went (in the minors), that's for sure -- that was just a wide-open free for all.

"Overall, the first game was a good experience, it's something to learn from and say, 'Hey, it wasn't great but there's always room to improve upon.' "

The netminder, backup to Miikka Kiprusoff for last night's clash against the Colorado Avalanche, has a nasty stats line beside his name, courtesy of the 24-minute relief appearance Oct. 23.

Against the Sharks, in a game the Flames lost 4-1, McElhinney hit the pipes with four minutes remaining in the second period. He faced all of two shots the remainder of the game, and allowed one goal.

He also muffed his first chance to play the puck behind his net.

"I think everything that could have went wrong, went wrong. That's the way it seemed for me," he said. "It can only go up, if anything, that's the way I'm looking at it, and the next time I'll be better prepared. At least it won't be my first time and the first-game jitters are out of the way."

The next day, he was dispatched to the minors, and only summoned back to the big club Monday.

Despite the demotion, and the subsequent pay cut, McElhinney doesn't begrudge the situation. Oh sure, nobody wants to be sent to the minors when they make the big-league club out of training camp, and he's no different, but it was a chance to get some game action.

"I was understanding of the situation more than anything," he explained. "Obviously, you don't want to be sent down but the situation here is a bit different with the goaltender they have, so it was important for me to get into some games and I got into 11 there.

"I think it paid off."

Even that didn't go well, either. In his first start with the Quad City Flames, McElhinney surrendered five goals -- on only eight shots -- before getting the hook after less than 27 minutes of action in a 8-1 loss to Milwaukee.

His game rounded into form quickly, but the results didn't come. McElhinney lost his first six starts in the minors -- one in a shootout. Eventually, he and the rest of the AHL team turned it around.

"The last few games, I think we were starting to form an identity in terms of how we had to play night in and night out, and it was paying off for us," he said. "We knew we weren't going to score a lot of goals and we stopping giving up as many good opportunities."

Before the recall to Calgary, McElhinney won four of his last five AHL starts, and allowed a total of five goals in that span. His last game was a shutout.

"A nice way to leave," said McElhinney, whose AHL stats include a 2.18 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. "The only game we lost was a shutout that was 1-0 with an empty net goal, too."

Now the 24-year-old Calgary product, is hoping to ride that wave with the big club. It may happen soon, too. Kiprusoff is a workhorse and now started the first 21 games of the season.

It's a safe bet he'll be given a game off, possibly when the team plays on back-to-back nights, Saturday in Denver and Sunday in St. Louis.

"The biggest thing for me is not to speculate ... because it's unpredictable," he said.


Videos

Photos