A goalie from Sarnia who spent almost two decades in professional hockey has hung up the pads.
Michael Leighton announced his retirement on Oct. 7, closing out a remarkable career in which he suited up for 18 pro teams over 18 seasons, including four teams in the NHL.
“I’m definitely proud of what I’ve accomplished,” Leighton in a phone interview. “It’s a good feeling and I’m definitely proud of being able to play hockey for 18 years. It was my dream to do that.”
The St. Patrick’s High School grad played in 111 NHL games for the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks – the team that drafted him in 1999.
Leighton, 37, earned a shutout in his first NHL appearance with the ‘Hawks, and holds the all-time American Hockey League (AHL) record for shutouts with 50, a record formerly held by Toronto Maple Leafs hall-of-famer Johnny Bower.
He holds the record for most saves in an AHL game – 98 — and tied the NHL record for most shutouts in one Stanley Cup playoff series with three in 2010.
But Leighton is perhaps best known for surrendering the Cup winning overtime goal with the Flyers that same year.
Philadelphia was an underdog, Leighton said, but rallied from a three-game deficit against Boston in the conference semifinals.
But the magic of playing in a Stanley Cup final ended abruptly on a strange goal by Chicago’s Patrick Kane.
“It obviously didn’t end the way I wanted it to but it was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had playing hockey,” Leighton said. “It’s disappointing we lost, (but) we lost to a good team.”
Now living in LaSalle, Ont. with his wife and three children, Leighton is doing some private goalie training and hopes one day to return to pro hockey in a scouting or player development role.
He forged many friendships over the years while facing some of the best players in hockey history.
The most challenging, he said, was gritty Russian sniper Alex Ovechkin.
“He was the most dangerous player I’ve played against. You always had to be aware and be ready for him to shoot the puck every time he got it on his stick.”
Leighton played two seasons with the Petrolia Jets before earning a spot with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires in 1998.
He wanted to play pro from a young age, he said, an aspiration often discouraged by his schoolteachers.
“Obviously, I can look back and laugh at that now,” he said.
The best thing about retirement is having time to spend with family, he said. Playing for an incredible 17 teams in 18 years meant frequent and sudden relocations.
“It’s unfair to my family for me to be working out, training, and gone,” Leighton said.
“It was just time. But it was tough to say goodbye to something I’ve done my whole life, something I’ve loved my whole life.”