The Brett Leonhardt story about a guy going from Washington Capitals web producer to backup goalie for the big club made national sports news this weekend and Leonhardt has taken on almost rock star status in NHL circles. This is definitely a feel good story for the Caps, the league, and sports overall and it is a side of sports that was sorely needed given what many NHL and sports fans, and Americans for that matter, have had to read about recently (see the Sean Avery ridiculous statements in Calgary from last week or the Plaxico Burress New York hand gun incident as prime examples – and don’t even get me started on the Illinois Senate seat corruption that should scare every American and continue to decrease any faith we have in our politicians).
I can tell you that last night’s pre-game warm-up was the most exciting I’ve ever witnessed in all of my years of being around hockey. If you just look at the mere facts in this story: a 26 year old former Division III college hockey player, who works for the Caps doing web production, signs an amateur contract, participates in pre-game warm-ups, and then sits on the bench for the first ten minutes of the opening period, it is simply amazing. I mean this wasn’t a Seinfeld episode where Kramer supposedly goes to Yankees fantasy baseball camp, brushes back Joe Pepitone for crowding the plate, and accidentally punches the great Mickey Mantle during a bench clearing scrum, no, this ACTUALLY happened. This was not just Brett Leonhardt’s real life sports fantasy camp, every sports fan had to be living vicariously through Leonhardt as he went through the whole ordeal from pre-game meetings, to putting on the pads, to being on the ice, to getting interviewed on television and in the press box afterwards. This was pretty much a reality TV episode and as Brett said afterwards, “I should have paid the Caps for this opportunity.” (By the way, Brett did not make any extra money suiting up on Friday night).
What made it even more special for anyone associated with the Caps was not just that this happened but that it involved Leonhardt, who is just a young guy who played and loves hockey and is working for what is likely peanuts just to be around the game he has been involved with since he was four years old. “Stretch”, as he is nicknamed because of his six feet seven inch height, is a very nice and humble guy who doesn’t seem to have a bad bone in his body. He’ll talk hockey with anyone whether you work for The Washington Post, a radio station, a web site, or even if you are just a hockey fan. It was evident how roundly liked he is because the whole press box was absolutely abuzz before the game when he was warming up from beat writers like Tarik El-Bashir, to the Caps PR staff, to the NHL off-ice officials, and to the rest of the media (and Brett’s statements afterwards about the Caps player reactions to his status indicated that they were extremely happy for him too). As I said, it was incredible and when Brett came up to meet with the media after the second period he was his typical self, no big head, just an average guy who somehow managed to be able to go on the ice with the likes of Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Ovechkin for a real NHL game (Leonhardt has practiced with the team three or four times this season).
It was really great to see the national coverage of this once in a blue moon event from the ESPN sports center clips with Scott Van Pelt or the highlights and comments from Larry Murphy on “NHL on the Fly” on the NHL network to the coverage locally on Comcast and on many web sites. And as many of you have read, after the game there was Stretch holding a video camera along with the rest of us in the local media in the locker room, while his sidekick, Mike Vogel (who is another great guy), was interviewing Brent Johnson, the very goalie Leonhardt had backed up on the bench just two hours earlier! But that is the “roll up your sleeves and get the job done” type of guy Leonhardt is and that is why this story is so great because if something like this can happen to him, then there is hope for everyone.
I mean, how tired are all of us with some of these prima donna athletes who think they are above the law or are morally bankrupt? Some people in the media, such as Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports.com, didn’t think Avery’s comments in Calgary were that big of a deal. Are you kidding me? Is this the example we want our society and children to come to expect? I guess since it didn’t involve a legal conviction some in the media are willing to let anything go but thank goodness the NHL and Gary Bettman put their foot down on Avery, the walking and talking freak show, and maintained the higher standard that hockey holds itself too when compared to some of the other major sports.
So the Leonhardt story is quite a refreshing one and perhaps the best quote and thought of the whole event was something Brett said later in the night to the Capital News Network about the jersey he wore for the game.
“I’ll put it in a nice display case and it’ll make a nice Christmas gift for my father. I owe my father everything.”
How can you not like and pull for a guy like that? Yes, give me more Brett Leonhardt’s and let’s get rid of guys like Avery and Burress. Thanks again Brett for a great night!