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Michael Leighton On His Life In Hockey


Michael Leighton's pro hockey career took him everywhere from Utica, N.Y., to eastern Ukraine. He's been to the Stanley Cup Final. He's played in a city on the brink of civil war, countless road trips, hotel stays, family moves. And this week, the former NHL goalie announced his retirement after an 18-year pro career in which he played for 21 different teams in three countries. Leighton joins us from one of those countries, Canada, in LaSalle, Ontario. Thanks so much for being with us.

MICHAEL LEIGHTON: Well, thanks for having me.

SIMON: You were drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1999. I'm going to assume when that happened, you didn't say to yourself, hey, I'm going to play for 21 different teams before my career is done (laughter).

LEIGHTON: No, no. I don't think any kid coming out of junior hockey starting his pro career is going to have that in mind. You always hope for the best and hope that, you know, you get that four-, seven-year contract and get to play in the same organization, buy a house and get settled in. And I just had to go with it.

SIMON: Yeah. What does this feel like for you?

LEIGHTON: In a way, it's a little disappointing. You know, I've - I played hockey my whole life. It's been part of my life since I was probably 4 or 5 years old. I started skating. And, you know, just to pack it in in the professional level, it's tough to swallow a little bit.

SIMON: Well, what was it like those 18 years, 21 different teams? Did you ever forget what uniform to put on?

LEIGHTON: (Laughter) No, no, no. It's - you know, there's good - some good and bad about traveling around a lot.

SIMON: Yeah.

LEIGHTON: The bad part is moving around and not getting comfortable in one city, always meeting new people, which is - you know, turns out to be a positive later. But when you walk into a locker room and you know one of 24 guys, it's a little tough for the first few weeks.

SIMON: Boy, yeah. Talk about being the new kid in school.

LEIGHTON: Yeah, yeah. But it's something I kind of got used to doing. When I started having a family and stuff, it got harder for me and my family, you know, moving around. And eventually, they stayed home, and that was tough.

SIMON: I'm told you had to miss the birth of your son once.

LEIGHTON: Yeah. That was when I went over to Ukraine. When I signed the deal, my wife was pregnant. I knew the baby was coming middle or the end of October. You know, the team kind of told me that soon as the baby's born, I'll be able to scoot home right away, and it didn't work out that way. They kept me there for a few more weeks and then let me go home for five days.

SIMON: Forgive me. You missing any teeth after 18 seasons?

LEIGHTON: I am not, no. I got hit in the face twice in practice. I always put my mask up in between drills. And one time, the trainer mistakenly threw the puck over the glass and hit me in the mouth. And then another guy flipped the puck from the corner when I was sitting there watching the coach explain a drill and hit me in the mouth.


LEIGHTON: No scars besides those two (laughter).

SIMON: I'm a Blackhawks fan, and I want to thank you for one of the greatest moments in my career as a Blackhawks fan.

LEIGHTON: I hope it's not one of the worst moments in my hockey career that you're going to thank me for (laughter).

SIMON: I think it might be. You were playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. Do you remember that?

LEIGHTON: Yeah, I think I remember.

SIMON: The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup with a goal to your left, as I recall.

LEIGHTON: It was obviously - you know, it was a great series - two good teams and two popular teams. I think it was one of the most watched Stanley Cup Finals up to that point. So it was a great series.

SIMON: 2010.

LEIGHTON: Not the way I wanted it to end. But overall, the whole year, the playoff experience was just a great experience for me in my career. And that kind of boosted me and kept me going for years after that.

SIMON: Thirty-eight - you're a young man. What are you going to do?

LEIGHTON: Well, I'd like to stay in the game somehow. I'll be searching for a job here in the next year, just to get some experience and hopefully make it to the NHL one day and be a part of the NHL organization on the other side of it - being a coach.

SIMON: Former NHL, AHL, OHL and KHL goalie Michael Leighton, thank you so much for being with us.

LEIGHTON: Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.