WASHINGTON – A six-foot-seven website producer for the Washington Capitals dressed as the team’s backup goalie for Friday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators because of an injury to Jose Theodore.
Brett Leonhardt, a Division III goalie in college, signed an amateur tryout contract before the game. If he had actually played, he would have tied Ben Bishop of the St. Louis Blues as the tallest goalie ever to see action in an NHL game.
Theodore suffered a hip flexor injury during the Capitals’ morning skate, and Simeon Varlamov was recalled from Hershey, the team’s AHL affiliate, to back up starter Brent Johnson.
But Hershey happened to be on the road in San Antonio, and Varlamov didn’t arrive in time for the 7 p.m. faceoff.
So the Capitals received special dispensation from the league to dress three goaltenders. Leonhardt of Grand Bend, Ont., had a spot on the bench until Varlamov arrived midway through the first period.
By the end of the second period, Leonhardt was back in a dress shirt and tie and in his usual spot in the press box, preparing for his regular job of holding the camera during post-game interviews following the Capitals’ 5-1 victory.
But first, of course, everyone wanted to interview him.
“Every dream come true,” Leonhardt said. “Growing up in Canada, playing since I was four. It was just very surreal. It was a blur, went by real quick.”
Although he didn’t play, Leonhardt – whose nickname is, you guessed it, “Stretch” – enjoyed the thrill of his life as he dressed in jersey No. 80 and went through the usual player’s pregame routine, including having his skates sharpened. Teammates greeted him warmly during pregame warmups as he fended off shots from superstar Alex Ovechkin and others while tending goal at the Verizon Center.
“It was a great view. Usually I’m up here with you guys in the press box,” Leonhardt said. “Mike Green started laughing his head off.”
During the first half of the first period, Leonhardt sat at the end of the bench in a white baseball cap. He looked down sheepishly when shown he was shown on the huge replay screen along with the caption: “First NHL game.” The crowd roared.
The crowd cheered again later in the period when Varlamov – also new to the big league – was shown on the screen along with the same caption.
The 26-year-old Leonhardt played two years for Oswego State in New York and two years for Neumann College in Pennsylvania before graduating in 2007. He has worked for the Capitals’ website for about a year and has taken part in drills during practices when the team needed an extra goalie. He wore one of his college masks from Neumann during warmups.
His chances of playing Friday weren’t exactly remote. Johnson had a sore hip from a fall during Wednesday night’s victory over the Boston Bruins.
Even if he had played, Leonhardt wouldn’t have received an NHL check. The special amateur contract pays nothing.
“I should pay them for being able to do this,” he said.
It’s a similar situation to the one faced by the Vancouver Canucks in December 2003. After starter Dan Cloutier suffered a groin injury just before a home game against Pittsburgh, the Canucks were forced to call up Chris Levesque – the third-string goalie from the University of British Columbia.
He was on the ice for warmups and backed up Johan Hedberg, but never appeared in the game. Levesque returned to his university team the next day.
The Capitals also reassigned forward Oskar Osala and defenceman Sean Collins to Hershey.