December 24, 2008
Brett Leonhardt had finished his duties in the Washington Capitals locker room, filming postgame interviews for the team's Web site. After the newspaper articles, television interviews and general hysteria over his brief stint as the Capitals' emergency backup goaltender in a game against the Ottawa Senators, there really wasn't much else that could validate the surreal nature of the last few weeks for him.
Until someone handed him the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, featuring a story and photo about his exploits. Leonhardt was floored, but that was just the latest chapter of one of this season's instant hockey legends.
Leonhardt, 26 and from Grand Bend in Ontario, played goal for the Div. III Neumann College Knights, a college outside of Philadelphia, and in juniors. After college, he played as a defenseman in an adult league while working for the Capitals. It was when he filled in for goalie Olaf Kolzig during practice last season that his competitive fire as a goaltender started burning again.
"I don't pray that a guy gets hurt. I just pray that he needs a day off," he said.
On Dec. 12, he served as the team's emergency back-up goalie against the Senators after Jose Theodore went down with a hip flexor. He took warm-ups and sat on the bench behind Brent Johnson. His first NHL stint ending during the first period when rookie Simeon Varlamov finally arrived at 10:57 of the first period.
"Stretch," as he's known around the team, took some time recently for a few questions about his time in the NHL and the aftermath.
PD: You didn't get paid for your stint as a backup goalie. Did you ever consider, since you had them in the lurch, holding out for some sort of monetary compensation?
LEONHARDT: Some people were joking about holding out, seeing if they offer something, which I think is illegal. But if I walked in there and asked for money, they'd either fire me on the spot or slap me across the face I think.
So honestly: Were you [pooping] your pants nervous that you were going to get in?
It was mixed. There was a part of me that was like, "The goalie that should be here is a goalie that's in the system. That trains 365, every day of his life. That's been to training camp, development camp." But at the same time, there was part of me that was thinking, "Up five or six goals ... last minute of the game ... maybe 30 seconds on the clock." They showed confidence in me by putting me on the bench. So if something were to happen, to be brutally honest, I would go in there and play my heart out.
But when Varlamov walked down the tunnel, I was happy. Because it was the right thing for the team.
How many interviews have you done since then?
My god. It's funny: Mike [Vogel of WashingtonCapitals.com] put a blog entry in, and he asked me what media I've done. I tried to count'em. It must be 20 to 25.
What's the dumbest question you've been asked?
That's a good question, actually. I was on John Walton's radio show [in Hershey], and his assistant on the show goes, "Brett, I looked it up and you went to college in Philadelphia. You're from Kitchener, Ontario. How the hell did you get down there?"
And I go, "Well, in hockey they have something called ‘recruiting.'" What was I supposed to say?
That you strapped the tennis rackets on your feet, walked 300 miles in the snow.
Exactly, exactly. Some people also thought [the Capitals] just pulled me out of the street, too.
You didn't get any calls from minor league teams looking to juice their gate, did you?
No. But honestly, I thought about what if a semi-pro team caught wind of this story, looked me up and someone gave me a tryout. Maybe if this happened later in the year, when there's a training camp next fall. I'm open to all calls; in fact, I got some calls from some A-Division men's leagues from around here.
What percentage of NHL goalies do you think you're better than right now?
[Laughs] You know what ... aw, man, OK: You figure there are 60 goalies in the NHL. There are one or two that I watched come up, that are around my age and thought that I was better than at one point in my life. I will go on record as saying that. I'd love to drop a name right now, but he didn't get asked back [by his NHL team] this year.
Has this experience changed the dynamic at all between yourself and the players you cover for the Web site?
I think [practicing with them] did that. When you're filming an NHL guy, and a week later you're robbing him on a glove save, there's a common respect. The guys have been great during all this, and since then.
I got called into the locker room today (Ed. Note: Interview conducted Dec. 18), and Brooks Laich, Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley all said, "Get over here and give us the camera. We're going to interview you."
Has the number of puck bunnies for you increased?
You know what's funny -- and I can say this now, because they played well that night - but two minutes before we went on the ice, Mike Green hits me in the leg. It's dead silent in the room, and he goes, "Hey ... you're going to have some groupies now."
He would know.
Well, I think they all have their own groupies.
All I can say is that when I went on my own computer the next morning, my Facebook friend requests were much higher than usual.
And based off of that, do you think your time as an NHL backup goalie puts you in line for sloppy seconds from any of the players?
You mean like a broken stick?
No ... you know, as far as women are concerned?
Oh, women? No. I will go on the record as saying I live with my girlfriend, and I'm happily in love with her.