Training Camp Guide: Cage Match
Taking a look at the players with the potential to earn a spot between the pipes.
CALGARY, AB -- Miikka Kiprusoff has always been a workhorse for the Calgary Flames and while the organization has been searching for a reliable backup for the Finnish goalie, they have yet to find someone who can spell Kiprusoff for 10-15 games a season.
This year, the Flames have opted to try someone new to both the organization and the NHL. Henrik Karlsson is coming into training camp pegged as the man who will back up Kiprusoff for the season but he does have some competition. Matt Keetley and Leland Irving both have their sights set on making the roster sooner than later and will be pushing the Swede for his job.In this segment of our Training Camp Guide, we profile each netminder that is making a run at the back-up position.
Henrik Karlsson - The San Jose Sharks have provided the Flames with a top-notch goaltender in Kiprusoff and hockey operations is hoping for the same kind luck when it comes to their latest net acquisition. The Flames swapped a sixth round pick for the towering Swedish netminder at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, a move that could prove to most beneficial for the club.
Like Kiprusoff in the early stages of his career, Karlsson's play is relatively unknown but last season he posted a 2.45 GAA and a .914 save percentage in 34 games with Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League. The Flames believe these numbers, along with what scouting staff have seen, speak volumes.
"He's the kind of goalie who can face 55 shots and get a shutout," said Flames European scout Anders Steen. "But you never know. He is now in a league with the best shooters in the world."
For his part, Karlsson is excited to head into training camp defending his backup position. He says he doesn't mind playing a supporting role to one of the busiest goalies in the league and wants to glean as much from Kiprusoff's game as he can.
"I'll go over with an open mind and give 100 per cent. I will try and pick up as much as I can from him."
Matt Keetley - For the past couple of years, Keetley has had a familiar face to compete against in training camp. His good friend Curtis McElhinney was Kiprusoff's caddy over the past two seasons and Keetley's main source of competition for a full-time job win Calgary.
"Curtie, he was probably one of my closest friends so I'd give him the gears in the summer," he laughed. "I'd tell him I was going to out-train him and take his job and that kind of stuff. You have to have fun with it."
This season, it's a bit different. With Karlsson serving as his main source of competition, Keetley isn't sure how this training camp is going to go. Since Karlsson has spent his entire career in Sweden, all of his competitors know of him is his statistical background.
Keetley hasn't let this worry him, however, saying his preparation has stayed the same and all he is focusing on is himself.
"For me, every year you come into camp to try and make it," he told CalgaryFlames.com. "You just try to beat them out. You have to have fun with and compete but at the end of the day, it's out of your hands."
The Heat had a log-jam of goalies in the 2009-10 season and Keetley did get some time in net but he was always battling David Shantz and Leland Irving for time. He managed to get in 23 games in Abbotsford, posting a 2.59 GAA and a .912 save percentage, but this season is his chance to try and solidfy himself as a proven starter at the AHL level. Keetley says he believes that path is his best chance at spending time in Calgary.
"You've just got to leave an impression in their mind and hopefully get a chance some time."
Leland Irving - Irving is seen by many as the Flames future in net but his development has been stalled by consistency issues over the past few seasons. Last year, Irving spent eight games with the Victoria Salmon Kings when the coaches felt his play wasn't at the level it needed to be. He called the stint a "learning experience" and used his time on the island to get his confidence level back up.
When he returned to Abbotsford, he posted a win in his first game back between the pipes. Ever since then, he says his game, and assurance in his play, has improved. Overall, the 22 year-old recorded a 14-17-2 record with the Heat with a 3.06 GAA and a .908 save percentage.
The netminder knows Karlsson is likely the first choice to backup Kiprusoff but knows the job is still up for grabs if the Swede does not perform as expected in camp.
"I'm going to come in and play my best and that's all I can do. Hopefully I can turn a few heads and make them make a decision."
Irving assumes he'll be back with the Heat to begin the 2010-11 season but says he wants his performance in camp to show the coaching staff they can feel comfortable bringing back into the fold later this campaign.
"At the end if the day, likely I'll be back in Abbotsford but I don't want to be shy and have them second-guess their ability to call me up.
"All I can do is control my play on the ice and let everything else take care of itself. I put in the work over the summer and now I'm just going to go out and enjoy, have fun competing."