|Manny Legace went 23-15-5 with a 2.59 GAA for the St. Louis Blues before a mid-season concussion and knee surgery ended his season.
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“People will never mistake me for a (Martin) Brodeur or even a (Miikka) Kiprusoff,’’ Legace told NHL.com. “I’m just that type of goalie who’s trying to do enough to keep my team in the game.’’
While that may be true, Legace’s play earned him a spot on the Western Conference for the 2008 NHL All-Star Game. Being named to the All-Star Game meant the world to Legace.
“I don’t think I stopped smiling for three weeks when I got the news,’’ Legace said. “You have no idea how excited I was when I got the call and how excited I was leading up to game; it was an absolute blast. I always watched All-Star Games on television with my dad. To go out there and not worry about hockey, but just have some fun was great. I had an entourage of about 20 people, including aunts and uncles from Detroit.’’
In the Dodge SuperSkills challenge, Legace stopped four of five attempts in the shootout event, including attempts from New York Rangers' Scott Gomez, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen in the elimination round. He later stopped Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk on a pair of tries in the breakaway challenge. He worked the third period of the All-Star Game for the West, stopping six of nine shots.
Those close to Legace realize how much that invitation to All-Star weekend in Atlanta must have meant. After all, it was just two seasons ago when Legace established a career-high with 37 victories as the starter in Detroit, yet wasn’t re-signed after the Wings were ousted by the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Once we lost in the playoffs, it was kind of obvious the Detroit management was going with someone else,’’ Legace recalled. “(Detroit GM/Vice President) Ken Holland was a total gentleman and not only called my agent to explain the situation, but called me as well, which was something he didn’t have to do. I saw the writing on the wall. The regular season went well, but in this League, you’re judged in the playoffs. I really would have liked to stay in Detroit, but I knew the only way that was going to happen was if I performed well in the playoffs and I couldn’t do it. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself, who knows.’’
While Legace's playoff performance (2.65 goals-against average) might not have been up to his regular-season level (2.19 GAA), the Red Wings’ sudden lack of offense and breakdowns on defense also played a part in their six-game demise to the Oilers in 2005-06.
“It wasn’t a surprise to me that I wasn’t re-signed, but in free agency, thought I’d be able to get a job right away after the year I had,’’ Legace said.
That opportunity didn’t materialize until August of 2006 when the Blues signed him to a one-year contract.
“I was told I’d be competing for the starting role in St. Louis,’’ Legace said. “St. Louis had their share of goalies in the system, so I kind of had to work hard and wait it out.’’
Legace went 23-15-5 with a 2.59 GAA for the Blues in his inaugural season, which was shortened due to a mid-season concussion and knee surgery. Still, his play was good enough to earn him a two-year contract extension. This season, Legace has played in a career-high 61 games (25-23-8) and sports a 2.43 GAA, .910 save percentage and four shutouts, including a memorable 31-save, 2-0 victory at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on the last day of 2007. In addition to representing the Western Conference at the All-Star Game, the St. Louis chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association named Legace this year's nominee for the Masterton Trophy.
“It’s a great honor to be nominated for the Masterton, especially since its an award where people recognize how much you’ve gone through in your career to reach a certain point,’’ Legace said.
Legace is quick to single out goalie coaches Jim Bedard in Detroit and Rick Wamsley in St. Louis for helping him achieve such notoriety. Each played a vital role in not only strengthening his game, but his character. Bedard was also his goalie coach with the Niagara Falls Thunder of the Ontario Hockey League. Wamsley won a Stanley Cup as Mike Vernon's backup in Calgary in 1989, much like Legace did in Detroit when he was second behind Dominik Hasek in 2002.
“The good thing about being in the NHL is the fact I had the chance to meet two great coaches in Jim (Bedard) and Rick (Wamsley),’’ Legace said. “They each did wonders for my game and my mental preparation. I wouldn’t be where I am without those two guys. They kept my head on straight; I am very lucky to have them as coaches.’’
In his spare time, Legace is also a spokesman for the Judson Center, a non-profit, human service agency located in southeastern Michigan to help children, adults and families improve their lives.
“Your heart just goes out to the children,’’ Legace said. “They’re kids who haven’t done anything wrong in the world but are not getting the proper care. The Judson Center is a phenomenal group that comes in and opens its doors to anybody, of any race. I’m proud to be a part of it in any capacity.’’
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.