SUN Hockey Pool

Hot 'keepers lining up behind Kipper

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

When he's at his best, Miikka Kiprusoff is undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers in the NHL.

The Flames are capable of beating any team with him in net.

The team also has a very strong crop of young netminders pushing their way up the ranks.

"We have high expectations for these guys," said goaltending coach David Marcoux. "We have a chance to have good depth in goal. We think it's very strong."

Curtis McElhinney is first to receive his chance at the NHL level to prove Marcoux correct.

The hometown product earned the back-up role last year, but injuries limited him to action in only five games -- and only a couple of starts -- before the team signed Curtis Joseph and dispatched McElhinney to the minors.

It was a disappointing season for the 25-year-old goalie drafted in the sixth round in 2002, but he's come back to the NHL determined to prove he belongs.

"With Curtis, the mental side is ready," Marcoux said. "He wants more than just the contract. He wants to prove he's an NHL goaltender. He's ready for anything."

Last year, McElhinney put together a 2.00 goals-against-average and .902 save percentage.

Nipping at McElhinney's heels is Matt Keetley, who stayed in Flames camp until the bitter end before being sent to the minors.

Keetley, the fifth-round pick in 2005, has rocketed up the charts over the past few years. The 21-year-old Medicine Hat native wasn't even a full-time goalie in his first season of bantam hockey but was a WHL star with the Tigers and parlayed it into the pro ranks.

"He's fast-tracked a lot of things," Marcoux said. "From a goalie standpoint, you're either in there or you're on the bench, and he had the opportunity to be in there. That's a priceless thing he's used to his advantage."

Training camp injuries prevented Leland Irving from a positive start to his pro career, but the first-round draft choice from 2006 is a highly touted prospect.

The Swan Hills native suffered a slight groin injury during the prospects camp which kept him out of pre-season action.

"It's unfortunate," Marcoux said. "I'm sure he's not satisfied with his rookie camp, so you learn from it."


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