Irving seeks pro-motion

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

Five years in the Western Hockey League were enough for Leland Irving.

While the 20-year-old goaltender is eligible for an overage junior season, nobody is talking of returning him to the Everett Silvertips.

Competing with fellow Calgary Flames prospects Matt Keetley and Kevin Lalande for a couple of starting gigs in the AHL and ECHL this season, Irving is eager to land a professional role.

"I don't want to get too ahead of myself, but I'm coming here to make a team," said Irving. "Whether I find myself in the AHL or East Coast league, that's for the coaches to decide."

The expected jump makes this training camp -- Irving's third with the Flames -- a little different from his previous ones.

"Knowing I've got a shot at not just NHL or junior ... it's a little bit more competitive between us goalies," he said.

Thriving on challenges since being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer as an eight-year-old, Irving has another one ahead of him. The stable of netminders in the Flames organization is arguably one of the league's best.

"I think anybody who is in hockey loves competition. In a lot of cases it forces you to up your game," Irving said.

"For all of us, I think it's a real positive that we have so much depth. We're forced to elevate our game to a new level."

The level he wants to reach this season is the American Hockey League, where the Quad City Flames need to replace Curtis McElhinney, who is expected to take the backup role to Miikka Kiprusoff with the parent club on a full-time basis this year.

"Starting in the AHL," Irving quickly replied when asked what his goal is. "You're that much closer to being in the NHL.

"As long as you're playing lots of games, that's what I want right now."

Careful not to declare his pupil destined for the jump to pro, Flames goaltending guru David Marcoux did hint Irving's time in junior might be done.

"It's been a few years there already and it might be time to move on, for sure," said Marcoux, who said it's up to the hopefuls to sort out a pecking order over the next couple of weeks, starting with games tonight and tomorrow in Camrose against the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks prospects.

"We want to make sure we're taking care of everyone in the organization and making sure they're in the best spot. Ultimately, they are going to sort it out."

Irving has come a long way since his WHL debut. Making the jump to pro doesn't just mean changes on the ice, it is a change of lifestyle.

"It's going through the process of being a man. Living on your own -- if that situation arises -- you have to now be in a position to live on your own and do your own groceries and make sure you're taking care of yourself," said Marcoux.

"When you come from the junior ranks, the billets take care of all the food and you're pretty structured in terms of your schedule. That's a big part of it. The off-ice part of it is quite an issue. I think he'll adapt well to that situation.

"On the ice, he's mature enough to be put in that situation."


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