It's rare that the inclusion of a no-name backup goalie onto an NHL roster generates this kind of attention, but when the talent comes courtesy of the press box, it's a different story. That's what happened over the weekend when the Washington Capitals were forced to grab their own web producer for the role of backup goalie after an AHL call-up had his flight delayed.
We talked to Brett Leonhardt, the 6-foot-7 former Neumann College goalie, about his 10 minutes of bench time/fame—the real backup eventually showed up—or as we prefer to call it, his NHL debut.
So when did they tell you you were playing?
George (McPhee) tapped me on my shoulder in my cubicle and said, "Listen we're calling a goalie up, but because of flights and everything there's a chance you might have to dress. Just a chance." Then every hour they kind of updated me. When he first came to me it was one-ish, right before we go to lunch. At 3 o' clock they told me it was for sure: warm-up and at least the first period. It turned out to be halfway through (the first).
What was your first reaction?
My first call was my mother to tell my dad this was happening and then, you know, my girlfriend Logan.
Were your parents able to at least watch?
No. They live in the middle of nowhere and they tried to find a bar in Grand Bend, Ontario with NHL Center Ice, but they couldn't; they said TSN got some footage, though.
I hear they weren't paying you any more than your normal salary.
No. I should be paying them, I think.
The locker room—you're there with them all the time, but this was obviously a little different experience.
I heard that maybe 95% of the guys knew (I was suiting up) and I walked in and the first person I hear is Ovie and he was laughing, and I said "Oh man, do the guys know?" And he said "Yeah." So I walked into get changed and (Sergei) Federov was like "This is awesome!" and started asking me about playing in college and telling me how this was the type of thing that makes him so proud to be a part of this organization. And the equipment guys—those guys are basically like me, you know—they were asking if I needed my skates sharpened or anything they could do. That was really something special. They gave me the A-1 treatment.
But you have practiced with them.
It's been three times this year and a couple times last year: just like once a month with injuries or if guys need a day off.
What about your helmet? The fans were so confused, thought you'd been traded-for. They were Googling.
Yeah. It's my college helmet. Neumann College.
You were on the ice with Alex Ovechkin…
Yeah. I know! The big moment was when I went to put my jersey on. It's weird, but I kind of waved it three times to see my name on the back of an NHL jersey. A Caps jersey. It was just phenomenal, and going out during warmup and there are guys without their helmets on…there are little things that change at all levels. And the fans, everything was so bright. And looking over and seeing (Jason) Spezza and (Daniel) Alfredsson, guys of that caliber…
Were you thinking, "They might shoot on me?"
Absolutely, I mean, when the puck dropped, I just kept looking over. Everyone's so big! And I'm on their level. Wow.
The jumbotron read "Brett Leonhardt First NHL Game" and fans just went nuts. Are there words to describe what was going through your mind?
You know the moment before you cry? I can't remember the last time I cried, but it was that feeling, one of those moments. You think you'd just smile and be embarrassed, but it was just like everything flooded out—getting up early for practice at the age of six—all of those things and then Mo hit me and said, "You're a star now," and I said, "They should have put 'First and last NHL game up there."
The team called you into the locker room before they opened it to the press. What happened?
Ovie sits close to the door, so he pulled me in and got everyone going. They applauded me I guess, (and) wanted me to share in the win.
You think you'll get a little more respect from the guys now? That's a pretty ballsy thing you did.
Yeah, I do. I think practicing with the team did that, but I think to stand in there and challenge them in warmups and to show them respect and be silent in the room and knowing that I got to sit in on the pregame meeting and watching video and hearing Bruce's talk—knowing that they showed trust in me. Yeah. I think it will come back from them when I have to do my job.