Looking out for No. 2

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

It's not the most glamourous of jobs, but it could provide the most competitive battle in this year's camp.

A handful of goaltenders have hopes of claiming the backup spot behind all-star Miikka Kiprusoff this season. Realistically, it's probably a two-man race between last year's Omaha Knights tandem of Curtis McElhinney and Brent Krahn, but major junior graduates Matt Keetley and Kevin Lalande plan to state their case starting today when rookies take the ice.

Leland Irving is the other netminder scheduled to join camp in progress when the Canada Russia Super Series ends this weekend, but will return to the WHL Everett Silvertips for another year.

"Looking at it, it appears there's a spot for everybody in the organization with one guy in (ECHL) Vegas, two in (AHL) Quad Cities and one here," McElhinney said yesterday after his gruelling fitness testing session.

"Going back to the American League certainly wouldn't be a bad thing -- playing a lot of games there -- but with either Keetley or Lalande sticking around there, that's going to be pretty tough competition wherever you go."

Krahn and McElhinney have been splitting duties on the farm team the past two seasons. Krahn played 24 more games than McElhinney during the 2005-06 season, but they posted identical save percentages of .912 and GAAs of 2.50 and 2.52 respectively.

Last year, their roles were reversed. McElhinney established himself with a .917 save percentage and 2.13 GAA, finishing with 29 more starts as Krahn battled another knee injury. Krahn had a respectable .905 percentage and 2.42 GAA.

Many view it as a last chance for Krahn to make the Flames roster after being drafted ninth overall in 2000, but it's the first time the position has been so achievable.

"This year's a bit of a different twist on things," said Krahn. "There's more of an opportunity to stick in the organization, and that's been my mindset all summer long -- to get myself ready both on-ice and off-ice to contribute and earn a spot with the Calgary Flames.

"Everybody's path to the NHL is different. There's curves and bumps. You've got to put up with it and you've got to battle through it. It's been some time for me to get to this point but I'm very excited and looking forward to my opportunity."

McElhinney is also excited -- and a little nervous.

"I'm nervous because there really hasn't been this opportunity the past two years I've been here," he said.

"The fact that they told us at the beginning at the summer that we're going to be able to fight it out for that spot is pretty encouraging."

Keetley and Lalande are the underdogs. But Keetley, whose Medicine Hat Tigers won the WHL championship last season and fell one game short of a Memorial Cup title, is keeping his goals high.

"That's been the dream and that's a goal I want. It might be unrealistic, it could be realistic. Unrealistic goals can happen if you really put your mind to something. If not, then you want to go down to the American Hockey League and you want to be a starter there and you want to work your way up to be a starter in the NHL. Your goal from the start is to be at the top.

Lalande, who is the least known to local fans after spending four seasons in the OHL with the Belleville Bulls, doesn't mind the low profile.

"Maybe that's a good thing, being under the radar," Lalande said.


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