On the Brink of History, Michael Leighton Doesn’t Downplay The Moment – by Bob Duff (Windsor Star columnist)
(Editor’s Note: Michael is a Petrolia Jets grad who played in the Western Jr. B hockey league in 1997/98 and 1998/99 for the Petrolia Jets.
Leighton grew up playing minor hockey in his hometown of Petrolia, Ontario for the Petrolia Oilers of the OMHA Bluewater League and AAA for the Lambton Lightning of the Alliance League.
At age 16, he played for the Petrolia Jets Jr.B. team of the OHA’s Western Ontario Hockey League before being drafted by the Windsor Spitfires in the 3rd round (56th overall) in the 1998 OHL Priority Selection.
The Petrolia Jets franchise moved to Forest and are now the Lambton Shores Predators.)
On the brink of history, Michael Leighton doesn’t intend to downplay the moment.
You bet he’s thinking about it.
“It’s definitely on my mind,” Leighton said.
The former Windsor Spitfire and LaSalle resident entered Friday’s game for the Rockford IceHogs against the Grand Rapids Griffins deadlocked with Toronto Maple Leafs legend Johnny Bower for the American Hockey League’s all-time shutout record. Both posted 45 zeroes during their AHL careers.
“The last month or so it’s been kind of creeping closer to it,” said Leighton, 34, who was January’s AHL goalie of the month after posting an 8-0-2 slate with a .945 save percentage and three shutouts. “It really hasn’t affected my play.
“If it’s coming down to a shutout, obviously it’s going to come into my mind a little more. I’m trying to stay focused and get the win first and hopefully a shutout along with it.”
Philadelphia Flyers, is pictured with the team in this December 2010 file photo. Leighton now plays for the Rockford IceHogs. Stephen Dunn / Getty Images
That he’s sharing the spotlight with one of hockey’s most legendary puckstoppers is an added bonus for Leighton.
“It’s pretty cool to be where I am and to see his name beside mine right now it’s pretty amazing,” Leighton said.
“When you look at his career, he had a great AHL career and then moved up to the NHL and had a great NHL career. He’s obviously a legend.
“It might be a little tougher for me to jump up and do what he did, knowing how great he did. It would be nice to do what he did.”
Bower was 33 and a veteran of 11 AHL seasons with the Cleveland Barons and Providence Reds when he was selected by the Leafs in the 1958 NHL intra-league draft. At first, Bower didn’t want to leave for Toronto.
Encouragement from Jim Hendy, who ran the Cleveland team, convinced Bower, who’d spent the entire 1953-54 season with the New York Rangers, to give the NHL another shot.
“I liked Cleveland,” Bower, 91, said. “I was nearly 34, in a good situation and figured I would finish my hockey career there,” Bower said.
“Mr. Hendy said, ‘John, why don’t you give it a try? If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back to Cleveland.’”
Bower ended up spending 11 years in goal for the Leafs, winning four Stanley Cups. Leighton doesn’t envision himself still stopping pucks at the age of 44 like Bower.
(photo credit – reddit.com)