By Nick Hart
Leland Irving took the ice with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the first time today. He did so without a contract.
Not only is the goaltender lacking an NHL or AHL deal, he has no ECHL deal to fall back on after training camp, and European elite league seasons overseas have already begun.
Irving is competing for his job and knows what’s at stake.
“Any time you’ve got a family to feed at home, that’s going to motivate you a lot more than anything else,” Irving said. “I think pressure’s a good thing. Nerves are a good thing. It keeps you on edge a bit. Times like that, you’re under a lot of pressure and automatically elevate your game.”
If he can elevate his game enough, he’d secure a contract with the Penguins organization or maybe even another club in need of a goalie. The added edge to his performance went noticed by the Penguins coaching staff today, so much so that they’re already anticipating that Irving’s addition to the mix of goalies at camp will make roster decisions much more difficult down the line.
“Right now, [Irving]’s making it really hard for me. They all are,” said Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli. “This isn’t his first rodeo. He’s been around, and he knows what he has to do. He’s a good pro. I think we’re just going to have to see.”
When Donatelli says Irving’s “been around,” he means it, too. He’s been everywhere, it seems. At 28, Irving has already been a first-round draft pick, played in the NHL, AHL, ECHL as well as professionally in Finland and Russia.
His return to the AHL last season saw him backstop the Iowa Wild and put up more than respectable numbers despite facing an average of 30-plus shots a night.
Irving hopes his all-around experience allows him to set himself apart from his much younger net-protecting counterparts at camp.
“It’s definitely a young core of goaltenders here,” Irving said. “I’ve been around this league a long time and been through ups and downs. You know, I was young once, too. I feel like I’m a much better goalie on and off the ice now than where I was when I was younger.”
Donatelli didn’t tip his hand toward favor towards any of the four goalies in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, nor has he given any indication when any of them will see their camp come to an end.
“I’m not too sure how that’s going to check out,” Donatelli said. “We’re going to continue with all of these guys for a few days here and see what happens in some games. But as of right now, we’re not too sure when any decisions will be made.”
So in the meantime, it’s up to Irving to keep up the intensity throughout practices and excel if his name gets called at any point during any of the upcoming exhibition games. After all, he’s got a family to feed.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins take the ice for their first preseason game when they host the Albany Devils at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on Thursday, Oct. 6 at 7:05 p.m. The Penguins will also battle the Hershey Bears in exhibition action at home on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 7:05 p.m. before wrapping up their preseason schedule at Giant Center against the Bears on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 5:00 p.m.
Individual tickets for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton home games can be purchased at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza box office, through Ticketmaster.com, or by calling 800-745-3000.
Season ticket packages for the 2016-17 season of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins hockey, including full season, 22-game, 12-game and Flexbook plans, are available by contacting the Penguins directly at (570) 208-7367.