SUN Hockey Pool

Joseph steps into fire

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

The countdown is on for the Calgary Flames to go to the dog.

Curtis Joseph, biding his time in the backup goaltender role since signing with the team 18 days ago, is due to see his first action.

Head coach Mike Keenan said the veteran netminder nicknamed "Cujo" would play this week, and with the team in Edmonton to face the Oilers tonight and back home for a date with the Phoenix Coyotes tomorrow, the debut should be imminent.

"I wouldn't say I'll have jitters, but there will be excitement," Joseph said. "You always want to make a good impression with your teammates. Certainly, for them to know you could be there in an emergency and carry the ball, that's important. You do not want to rest on your laurels and want to prove to your teammates you can play."

Joseph certainly has plenty of laurels.

With his next victory, he'll move into a tie with Terry Sawchuk for fourth spot on the NHL's all-time list at 447. Only Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and Ed Belfour have more. It's heady company.

"I know where I am in wins, and know what Terry Sawchuk meant to the game," Joseph said. "To be mentioned in the same breath and be close to having as many wins as Terry is really special."

Joseph's next shutout will be No. 52 and move him ahead of Rogie Vachon for 21st spot on the all-time list.

Curiously, two of the first three teams the Flames face this week are former squads for Joseph. He spent the last two seasons with the Coyotes, and he spent three seasons with the Oilers, backstopping a couple of impressive playoff series upsets.

"Edmonton's always a special place to play," he said. "I know the trainers very well -- they've been mainstays -- and certainly a lot of the fans."

Seeing as the Flames now ramp up their schedule, expect to see a fair share of Joseph in net.

To finish the season, the Flames play 30 games in 62 nights, with five sets of back-to-back nights.

Joseph will be relied on to make an impact, while spelling off Miikka Kiprusoff with some form of regularity.

"I always admired the guys who came off the bench and played well. That's what my expectations are, to come off the bench and play well. That's my job," he said.

A job for which he believes he's now ready.

His performance at the Spengler Cup -- leading Canada to victory -- proved the 40-year-old still had what it takes to play at the NHL level.

A couple of weeks facing real NHL shooters has fine-tuned his game.

"Certainly, the first few days were the high-altitude training," Joseph said with a grin. "And Mike (Keenan) runs an intense practice, a high-energy NHL practice. A combination of those factors made the first few days tough.

"I'm settling in, enjoying working hard. I've had to work extremely hard -- these guys had training camp to stay sharp."

Knowing he's about to see some game action wasn't the only boost Joseph received this week. Thanks to a break in the school schedule, his three sons -- Taylor, Tristan and Luke -- were in Calgary on the weekend.

With the all-star break now done, there won't be much opportunity for get-togethers until the season ends.

"Seeing my family is great. I always want them to see what I do," he said. "It's an exciting lifestyle, certainly. I want to share that with them."


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