Caps' Web Producer Dresses For Game

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, December 13, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

Imagine that you are a paralegal at a law firm and the partner gets sick, leaving you to argue in front of the Supreme Court. Or that you are a flight attendant and the pilot passes out and you have to land the plane.

That's how close Brett "Stretch" Leonhardt, a 26-year old website producer for the Washington Capitals, was to appearing in an NHL game.

That the Caps completely obliterated the Ottawa Senators, 5-1, before over 17,000 at Verizon Center tonight was almost an after thought after all the histrionics involved in finding a backup goaltender to Caps' starter Brent Johnson.

Washington goalie Jose Theodore injured his hip flexor during the morning skate and the Caps found themselves down a goalie. The player they wanted to recall, 20-year old phenom Simeon Varlamov of the AHL Hershey Bears, happened to be in transit to a road game in San Antonio, Texas. The Caps arranged to get him on a flight from that would have him landing at Reagan National Airport at 7:00 p.m.--gametime.

But it would take a while to get Varlamov from the airport to the arena, dressed and on the bench. That's where Leonhardt came in.

Leonhardt's normal job for the Caps is shooting and editing video for the club's website, one of the best in the league. He also happened to play Division III hockey at Oswego State and Neumann College. Occasionally, coach Bruce Boudreau has asked him to fill in at practice when one or the other of the teams goalies need a "maintenance day". But with Brent Johnson already nursing a painful hip injury himself, it was critical that the Caps had a goalie dressed for the game until Varlamov could arrive.

Caps General Manager George McPhee stopped by Leonhardt's cubical mid-day and according to Leonhardt, McPhee told him, "Be ready."

So Leonhardt signed an emergency tryout contract. The team received special dispensation from the league to dress three goalies. And just like that, a video editor turned into a backup NHL goaltender.

Leonhardt skated during pre-game warmups, and according to starting goalie Brent Johnson, "He stood on his head in warmups." He needed guidance in where to go and what to do, but acquitted himself honorably, despite fans--and media--trying to figure out who this No. 80 wearing goalie pads was.

When the game started, Johnson was indeed between the pipes, but Leonhardt was there on the bench, in a white Caps ball cap, just in case. During an early time-out they put him up on the high definition scoreboard and he sheepishly tugged the bill of his cap down and the capacity crowd gave his a rousing ovation.

But Varlamov made it to the arena and relieved Leonhardt mid-way through the first period, thus ending the 6'7" backup's NHL debut before it even started.

After the game, Leonhardt was back at his day job, shooting video during the post-game interviews. But while waiting for coach Boudreau to address the media, during a quiet moment in the locker room where just hours before he dressed as if to play in an NHL game, I asked him what he was going to do with his jersey.

"I'll put it in a nice display case and it'll make a nice Christmas gift for my father. I owe my father everything."

Photo by Getty Images.