Irbe feeling a different kind of pressure

Former NHL goalie Arturs Irbe has a different kind of pressure, as he is now in his rookie season as goalie coach of the Washington Capitals.

Arturs Irbe knows all about pressure.

As a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, he shared the net with Kevin Weekes and advanced all the way to the 2002 Stanley Cup final.

In the San Jose goal, Irbe's play was a big reason the Sharks upset the Detroit Red Wings in the seventh game of an opening-round series in 1994.

Now, he has a different kind of pressure. He is in his rookie season as goalie coach of the Washington Capitals.

"I can deal with that. I'm not new to pressure," said Irbe, who took time out from his job in Washington to be in his native Latvia on Monday to participate in the NHLPA's decade-long anniversary celebration of its Goals and Dreams program that will donate equipment to grassroots players on a 10-country, 10-day trip.

The Capitals hired Irbe last August to primarily tutor 21-year-old Russian netminder Semyon Varlamov.

"My motto is very simple: If I'm not good enough as a coach and my players don't feel that I'm giving them enough, then why extend my stay?" Irbe said.

"I want to be appreciated and feel valuable. You can't be a hero like a player who scores a hat trick … With goaltending you have to be consistent every game."

Productive offence

The Capitals have the league's most productive offence at 3.65 goals per game, but is tied for 23rd in defence, having yielded 3.05 goals a game.

The 42-year-old Irbe last played in the NHL in 2003-04, when he made 10 appearances for the Hurricanes. He returned to Latvia to play in a pair of world championships and the 2006 Olympics. His last action was six games in the Slovakian league in 2006-07.

But even in his last days stopping pucks, Irbe wasn't dialled in on a coaching career.

"I didn't think about it at the end of my career because I was trying to extend my career and playing as long as I can because my former coaches and teammates all told me to cherish and play as long as you can because one day it's going to be over," he said.

"There is nothing that compares to playing hockey. But the next best thing is being a coach."

The personable Irbe even confessed that he didn't help out the younger goaltenders he played with in the NHL.

"I didn't want to give out my secrets and insights and experience to the young punks who wanted to take away my spot," he joked. "But now my spot is safe because I'm not playing anymore."

Ovie's return

Irbe was scheduled to return to the U.S. in time for the Capitals game in New York against the Rangers on Tuesday, when Washington hopes to see the return of Alex Ovechkin.

For Irbe, it's always special to be in Latvia, a country is represented each spring at the world championship with the most passionate fans.

"It's unexplainable," Irbe said. "The fans have always supported the Latvian team through the good and bad times. Our country loves hockey."

The Goals and Dreams program distributed 50 sets of equipment to kids in Riga, Latvia, on Monday, making it an emotional day for Irbe.

"It's been a very special day, considering how it's been in our country," he said. "If people in North American think they have economic woes then they should look at how desperate the situation is here in Latvia.

"There have been cuts to the budget and sport programs are suffering as a result. For a program like Goals and Dreams to come in and do this, it just lights up the faces of the young hockey players and their parents, too. It's not cheap to play hockey, compared to soccer or basketball.

The Goals and Dreams program is funded by members of the NHLPA and is the largest grassroots hockey program in the world.

Since its inception in November 1999, the program has donated more than $17 million US to grassroots programs in 22 different countries and more than 40,000 children.