Wading through all the impressive numbers Abbotsford Heat goalie Leland Irving has compiled this season, one stands out above the rest.
It’s not his 13 victories or his three shutouts, though both totals lead the AHL. And it’s not his goals against average (1.94) or his save percentage (.927), though he ranks fourth and 10th in the league in those respective categories.
No, the number that truly sets Irving apart is his 1,022 minutes played, another league-leading total which represents a significant outlier. Only two other AHL goalies – Anton Khudobin of the Providence Bruins (930) and Brad Thiessen of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (819) – have played as many as 800 minutes this season.
The Heat’s workhorse keeper started three games in three nights on two occasions during a recent seven-game road trip, and his steady play was a primary reason Abbotsford emerged with a sterling 6-1-0-0 record on the jaunt.
Overall, Irving has started 18 of the Heat’s 19 games this season, and he merits a great deal of the credit for the fact his team sits in first place in both the West Division and Western Conference with a 13-5-1-0 record. With 27 points, they’re also tied for first overall in the AHL with the St. John’s IceCaps, though the Winnipeg Jets’ affiliate has one game in hand.
Irving was recognized on Monday as the AHL’s player of the week after winning three of four starts during that span, including two shutouts – a 4-0 win over the San Antonio Rampage on Tuesday, and a 1-0 shootout win over the Houston Aeros on Sunday.
“I’m just fortunate that the coaches have trust in me to be able to give them a chance to win every night,” Irving said, reflecting on his huge workload. “It just takes a lot of preparation. It’s really important to take care of your body – stretching, cold tubs, eating properly, and just getting lots of rest.
“The body gets tired, and mentally you get a little bit fatigued, too. But I feel like when you’re playing that often, you’re able to get into a bit of a roll. You’re just thinking the game a lot better, and the play seems to slow down a bit at times.”
Irving is the second Heat player in four weeks to earn the AHL weekly honour, having been preceded by Krys Kolanos, who won for the week ending Oct. 30.
With another successful road trip in the rear-view mirror, the Heat now lead the AHL in road wins, having won 11 of 13 dates away from home.
Quizzed as to why the Heat have been so good on the road, Irving offered a reasonable theory.
“On the road, in some ways, I think there’s less pressure,” he said. “You don’t always feel like you have to play the nicest game, where you’re making all the fancy plays. You’re just getting pucks deep and keeping it simple, just trying to wear the other team out. It seems to be working.”
The Heat hope their road success translates to home ice this week – they host San Antonio on Friday (7 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.