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Thursday, November 7, 2002
Updated: November 9, 7:35 PM ET
Irbe: 'If I'm not playing, I don't want to stay here'

Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. -- In earlier seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, Arturs Irbe was on the ice almost as much as the puck.

The 35-year-old goaltender played in 75 and 77 games two and three seasons ago, and had a key role in Carolina's run to the Stanley Cup finals last year.

But he's hardly been visible in the first month of 2002-03 -- except in advertisements or sitting on the Hurricanes bench as red-hot Kevin Weekes guards the net.

And he's just about fed up with it.

"If I am not playing I don't want to stay here," Irbe said Thursday. "I am not going to lie about it. I need to play. I can't sit 10 games and kill myself, deprive myself of sleep and think what I'm doing wrong and how it has gone this far."

Weekes, 27, was acquired from Tampa Bay late last season, intended to be the team's goalie of the future.

He replaced Irbe, who was benched in the first round of the playoffs against New Jersey. But Irbe was excellent when he returned against Montreal, Toronto and then Detroit in the Stanley Cup finals. He finished the postseason with a 1.67 goals-against average and started Carolina's opener this season.

But he struggled early, and Weekes has started nine of the last 10 games for the Hurricanes and is second in the NHL in save percentage.

"Weekes is a good goalie and he deserves to be No. 1 in this league, but somehow I don't feel like I'm at the bottom of the stack and I can't play in this league," Irbe added. "It's hard to imagine how we're going to share one net."

For the moment, they're not.

Coach Paul Maurice said it's unclear when Irbe, who has played once since Oct. 12, would get another opportunity with Carolina in the middle of a franchise record nine-game homestand.

"This is a really unusual set of circumstances more than anything else," Maurice said. "We've got one guy who got hot right at the time we got this big homestand, where we have to play well and we have lots of rest in between. Normally the schedule would let me pick an easy game, but the schedule won't allow it."

General manager Jim Rutherford has no plans to trade Irbe, who signed a three-year contract extension on the first day of last season.

"This is pretty natural for a player who is not playing. I would almost expect this more than I would expect somebody just sitting there and taking it lightly," said Rutherford, who was himself a NHL goaltender for 13 seasons.

"What's he's saying is, 'I want to play and, if it's not going to be here, can it be somewhere else.' It's not like this has been for a long period of time, but I am sure for him it seems like forever."

Irbe lost his starting job early last season to Tom Barrasso. But he regained his form and Barrasso was dealt to Toronto.

Now, for a second straight November, Irbe -- with 206 career wins -- is back on the bench.

"I hate it," Irbe said. "I don't enjoy this. I've seen it before and it doesn't make it any easier -- it actually makes it even harder."

Weekes, who has battled to gain a No. 1 spot in the league for five different teams in five seasons, knows just how Irbe feels.

"It's a difficult situation for him because he's accustomed to playing every game around here," Weekes said. "I'm sure that's tough for him to get adjusted to. I can understand that and respect that because it shows he has a lot of pride. He just doesn't want to be here for the sake of being here. He wants to be able to contribute."

Irbe is frustrated, but all he can do is wait for his opportunity -- and then make the best of it.

"All I need is one good game," Irbe said. "There is room for a good goalie in this league. I am going to play this year -- that's all I'm going to say -- one way or another. I am going to be ready. How it's going to play out and when, nobody knows, but I am ready to play."