On Sunday evening, Abbotsford Heat goalie Leland Irving watched his long-awaited NHL opportunity unfold in real time.
After the Heat’s 3-1 road win over the Chicago Wolves earlier in the afternoon, Irving and a handful of teammates – Ben Walter, Chris Breen, Quintin Laing and Guillaume Desbiens – ventured out to a restaurant for dinner.
The players asked the restaurant staff to switch the channel to the Calgary Flames-Vancouver Canucks game, and during the third period, they watched as Flames goalie Henrik Karlsson left the game with a knee injury following a goalmouth collision.
Ten minutes later, Irving’s cell phone rang. It was Heat head coach Troy Ward, informing him he was being recalled by the Flames.
Speaking with The News on Monday morning, Irving expressed sympathy for Karlsson, who was placed on the injured reserve with a sprained MCL in his right knee.
But he acknowledged that getting his first NHL call-up was a special moment.
“It was pretty exciting, and the guys were excited for me,” said Irving, 23. “It was very cool to share it with your teammates – the guys that helped you get there.
“It just means that much more when I’ve had to wait a while and work hard to even get a chance (in the NHL).”
Irving, a first-round draft choice by the Flames in 2006, has yet to play an NHL game.
That’s not been for lack of effort on his part – he’s been the Heat’s best player over the last season and a half. The Swan Hills, Alta. native was Abbotsford’s team MVP in 2010-11, and he’s been a workhorse this fall – he leads the AHL in wins (15), shutouts (3) and games played (23), to go with a 2.30 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. He was the AHL’s player of the week for the week ending Nov. 20.
Irving endured a rough patch just over a week ago, as he was pulled in two of three starts. But he got back on track this week, picking up wins over the Wolves on Friday and the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday.
“There’s obviously a couple games I’d like to throw out that I didn’t like my play in,” Irving noted. “But for the most part I’ve been happy with the way things have gone. I’ve been fairly consistent, and I feel like I’m giving the guys a chance to win almost every night. At times, when they don’t have their legs, I’ve maybe been able to steal a win or two.”
With Irving out of the picture, Danny Taylor and Joni Ortio will handle the goaltending chores for the foreseeable future. Taylor, signed to an AHL contract by the Heat on Friday, started Sunday’s game and made 25 saves.
• On Monday afternoon, the Flames announced they’d assigned veteran Heat forward Stefan Meyer to Farjestads BK of the Swedish Elite League. Meyer, 26, had suited up for 16 games with Calgary last season, but he’d only gotten into six games with the Heat this fall and hadn’t played since Oct. 22.
“This year, due to the number of veterans we have on our club in Abbotsford and the AHL Development Rule, it was necessary to look for another option for Stefan,” Flames general manager Jay Feaster said in a press release.