Monday, 7 March 2016

Being Good Has Its Drawbacks

I'm a little late on this story since it happened on Saturday night, but the man in the photo stands alone in the AHL record book after the Rockford IceHogs downed the Lake Erie Monsters by a 5-0 score tonight. I spoke of Michael Leighton's greatness in the AHL before, but his shutout tonight over the Monsters was his 46th shutout in his AHL career, moving him past goaltending legend Johnny Bower for first all-time. It had been a record that Bower had held since breaking Nick Damore's record on March 10, 1957. Instead, March 5, 2016 will be the new date written into the AHL history books.

I won't go through all of the accolades that Leighton has collected in his 15 years of professional hockey, but the 34 year-old is probably going to be able to add to that total over the next couple of years as long as his play remains at the level seen this year. He's 27-6-8 with the IceHogs this season, and he's been a major factor in helping the IceHogs' quest for a Central Division title this season. They are currently tied atop the standings with Milwaukee with 75 points, but do have a game in-hand on the Admirals.

Johnny Bower's career win total of 359 is probably safe from Leighton's play as Leighton only has 220 career wins, but he's been an outstanding competitor at both the NHL and AHL levels and he deserves a little recognition for moving past one of hockey's all-time greatest netminders.

The thing about Michael Leighton is that he's never really received a fair shake in the NHL. Because of his ability, he's a wanted man when it comes to teams needing goaltending depth, but that has taken its toll on his career because his resumé makes it appear as though he's a journeyman goalie, moving to whatever city where he can play his next game. In an ESPN article written by Scott Powers, you get the sense that his constant moves have taken its toll on his family.

"It's not easy," Jen Leighton told Powers. "I can't glamorize anything about it. There's always some perks that come with hockey, but it's the hardest thing I've ever done. It's never gotten any easier. I struggle every year. But in all honesty, I have no other choice. I have to do it. This is what we do.

"This is his career. We go where he goes."

Jen Leighton, Michael's wife, sounds like she's unhappy, but she's Michael's biggest fan and has been since the two met in high school in Windsor, Ontario. Her comments above aren't laced with any discontent over Michael's chosen career; rather, she's stating a fact when it comes to following and supporting her husband. Her comments in the ESPN article shows her strength and her resolve to support Michael when he's sometimes playing on the other side of the world.

For Michael, this accolade should be recognized by more people for accomplishing this achievement. The toll taken on his family as he's played the third-man role on depth charts has been a struggle at times, but he might be one of the best netminders not in the NHL right now. When you factor in how much he's sacrificed for hockey to get where he is, he absolutely deserves to be heralded among the greats to have ever laced up the skates in the American Hockey League.

Congratulations on the achievement, Michael Leighton, and here's to many more shutouts before you finally decide to retire. It's a credit to your commitment to the game of hockey and to the effort in being an outstanding netminder while being one of the "old guys" in the league.

Let's just hope that it continues for the next few years in Rockford, Illinois so you can share it all with your family at your side.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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