A glimpse of greatness
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This is not just another rink rat from the state of Minnesota, where high school hockey is at its best and U.S. hockey players invariably are spawned.
"I always loved to skate," Leopold admitted. "I'd go to the park to skate on the ice in the winters and when the weather was warm, I'd be on roller blades skating in my driveway or playing street hockey somewhere in the neighborhood.
"No one pushed me to play this game, it's just something I always wanted to do, and my parents still have a few holes and dents in the garage to prove how much I wanted to improve my shot. We weren't supposed to use real pucks in the driveway ... but, you know, kids will be kids, even if my dad wasn't too happy when he learned about what we had done to the garage."
And Leopold's rise to fame hasn't come without problems, the kind of health problems that probably kept him out of the first round of the draft. You see, Jordan carries an inhaler around with him, because of a respiratory condition that is caused by an inflammation of the lung passage linings that can narrow his airways and reduce the intake of oxygen.
"Being up in the Calgary altitude really helps," Leopold explained. "I just take my inhaler before the game and that's it, really. Maybe before practice -- it depends on how I'm feeling that day.
"I've only had one asthma attack, thankfully. I was 15 or 16 and it felt like someone was standing on my chest. But that's the wonder of these inhalers, they open up your bronchial tubes. Actually, what really got me here at first was sleeping, where I tended to get a lot more headaches from the air pressure and the dry air. That took more time to adjust to than the asthma."
For now, Leopold is growing up fast, marrying his college sweetheart, Jamie, after his senior year at Minnesota and having the responsibility of a being a dad to his daughter, Jordyn, another redhead.
On the ice, Leopold was one of only three Flames to play in all 82 regular-season games, leading Calgary defenseman in points with 33. He averaged 22:13, only seven seconds off the team-leading amount played by Regehr. Leopold also compiled a plus-8, compared to his team-worst minus-15 last season.
In the playoffs, Leopold's plus-5 and 10 points paced all Flames defensemen. His playing time was up, too, to 25:41 per game, second behind Regehr.
"Just watching him, you can see there's a lot of patience, poise in his game," Red Wings veteran defenseman Chris Chelios said after seeing Leopold's game up close in the playoffs. "He's a good skater. Smart -- plays the game with his head up, looking to make plays."
In August, Leopold could be paired with Chelios or Toronto star Brian Leetch for that matter as Team USA prepares for the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. At 23, he is the only under-30 defenseman on the U.S. roster.
Which tells you a little bit about how much officials on that team, like St. Louis Blues GM Larry Pleau and Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell think of Leopold's skills now -- not just in the future.
"I've been telling people, 'I'm just going to get my notebook out and take notes on everything I learn on that stage,' " Leopold smiled.
He's acutely aware that the stage of playing for the Stanley Cup is a pretty exclusive stage as well.
What's interesting is that he's being encouraged to be all he can be now -- at a time when one or two defensemen typically show off their skills, like Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski did for the New Jersey Devils and Sandis Ozolinsh did for the Mighty Ducks in last year's Stanley Cup Finals.
I've always believed one of the main ingredients to winning a Stanley Cup is having defensemen who can move the puck up the ice in transition to start the offense, plus be ready to step into the offense and make a play when the defense seems to be covering every available forward.
All of this proves that the defense never rests in the NHL anymore and defensemen have sort of become a secret weapon. The next secret weapon? Don't be surprised if it's Jordan Leopold.