Saturday, Oct. 27, 2007 | 7:12 a.m.
The call came on the 12th hole. John Curry, busy taking every skin from his three hockey teammates, didn't notice the buzz from his cell, in his golf bag, until leaving the putting green at 15.
The goaltender didn't finish the round at the gorgeous Blue Ridge Trail Golf Club outside Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The big skins winner and property of the Pittsburgh Penguins was on his way to Las Vegas.
Curry, 23, left from Philadelphia early the next morning. Thirty-six hours later, on Oct. 19, he won in his professional debut in an overtime victory for the Wranglers in Fresno .
"It's definitely surreal," he says. "I walk outside every day and see the mountains, the sun, the weather ... I look down at the Strip, four miles away."
Curry stopped 33 of 34 shots at Fresno in the Wranglers' 2-1 overtime victory.
His father, Steve, a former Notre Dame defenseman who is in the construction business in Shorewood, Minn., flew to Fresno to watch his son's professional debut.
His sister, Megan, a freshman forward on the women's ice hockey team at Amherst College, called with congratulations from Massachusetts.
Then John Curry beat Stockton on Sunday and Tuesday at the Orleans Arena to win ECHL Goaltender of the Week honors. His 1.31 goals-against average was fourth in the league heading into this weekend's series at Victoria, B.C.
"Pretty crazy story," he says, "if you look where I was five or six years ago."
At prep school in Connecticut, Curry had no Division I offers and had been leaning toward Division III programs.
His high school position coach, though, had played with Boston University associate head coach Brian Durocher, who kept an eye on Curry.
The Terriers had no scholarships, but Curry accepted Durocher's offer to walk on. A year later, Curry had a scholarship and the starting position.
Last season, as a senior, he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the NCAA's top goalie. In three seasons at BU, Curry was 59-29-15, with 13 shutouts.
"He's got a few little things he needs to work on," says Wranglers coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan. "But he's a very, very capable guy. I can see why Pittsburgh signed him."
With the departures of Mike McKenna and Kevin Nastiuk, Gulutzan , seeking a goalie, made a few calls and sent out several e-mails two weeks ago to NHL executives.
Penguins assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher got back to Gulutzan.
Pittsburgh's minor league system is stocked with goalies, Fletcher said, and Curry needs regular work.
Gulutzan did some research and sent for Curry, who has been tutored by friends and veterans in Pittsburgh about professional hockey.
"You get called up and sent down," he says. "The highs and lows are pretty extreme in this sport. You have to stay calm and collected."
In May, Curry had his right hip repaired by Dr. Marc Philipon - who has operated on NHL goalies Rick DiPietro and Jean-Seabastien Giguere and world-class soccer players - at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colo. Philipon tended to the torn labrum, reshaped the head of Curry's femur and shaved his pelvic bone to ease movement of the labrum.
Curry's goals are building, and maintaining, strength in his hip and getting better in front of the net.
Nerves never got the better of him at BU, and they didn't test him in his first game for the Wranglers.
Nerves make it tough for goalies to control pucks and stay confident, stay square, he says. Everything gets out of whack.
"You have to be in a calm, cool state of mind," Curry says. "If it's a big game, you get jacked up for it. Luckily, I felt fine going into these games."
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Curry is fast becoming a Las Vegas fan favorite, and the enthusiasm was fueled on Tuesday when he stoned two breakaway attempts by Stockton players.
"You don't think of anything," he says of breakaways. "I've done it 100 times in practice. There's almost nothing to lose. All eyes are on you for three or four seconds. You don't think , just react."
Curry will leave Las Vegas next weekend with a U.S. select team to play in the Deutschland Cup in Hanover, Germany .
When he returns, Curry might ask Gulutzan for a chance to play up front to show off a wicked slap shot. He once shattered the plexiglass at Walter Brown Arena at BU with a rocket shot from the point.
"I'm still looking for my spot on the power play," Curry says, smiling. "I haven't been able to talk to (Gulutzan) yet. But, yeah, I'm still waiting for my chance."
Chances are, he's much more valuable trying to block such shots.