As a Web producer, Brett Leonhardt
spends game nights posting video of the Washington Capitals
. On Friday night, he got to be
a Cap — at least for a few minutes.
The 6-foot-7 former Division III goaltender, who's worked for the team for nearly a year, dressed as the Caps' backup goalie for their game against the Ottawa Senators
. After Jose Theodore
went down with a hip flexor injury during the morning skate, Leonhardt signed an amateur tryout contract and was in uniform for the pregame warmup and the first half of the first period, backing up Brent Johnson
. Simeon Varlamov, who was recalled from the minors but couldn't get to the Verizon Center before the game, arrived and replaced him on the bench for the rest of the Caps' 5-1 win.
Those 10 minutes were something he'll never forget.
"It was the greatest day of my life," he told NHL.com after finishing his regular work updating the team's Web site following the game. "Winning a championship in junior and going away to college, I had some great nights, but this takes the cake."
Leonhardt, who has served as an occasional fill-in goalie at practices, said he got the word during the morning skate that he might be filling a different function than he usually does on game nights.
"Jose had a short practice," he said during a between-periods interview during the Caps' game telecast. "George (McPhee, the Caps' GM), kind of came into my cubicle, tapped me on the shoulder and just told me, 'Make sure your gear is down at Verizon and be ready to go at five.'"
Varlamov was on the road with Hershey, the Caps' top farm team, which played at San Antonio on Thursday night. He flew from Houston, where the Bears play Saturday, when he got the call, and headed for Washington — but the Caps knew he wouldn't get there in time for the 7:05 p.m. faceoff, so they got a dispensation from the NHL to dress three goaltenders.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau
said he wasn't worried.
"It was the greatest day of my life. Winning a championship in junior and going away to college, I had some great nights, but this takes the cake." -- Brett Leonhardt
"Once I left the arena it was all done and I didn't think about it until I got back and found out (Varlamov) wasn't going to make it here, and then you start worrying about it again," Boudreau said in his postgame news conference. "To me it's a moot point. We either have Brett, yes, or we don't, and we have Varley, and I can't let that consume 90 percent of my day when it's only maybe 10 percent of the problem at this point. Now if Brett couldn't go, then I might have been a little worried. But Brett was tossing pucks to the crowd like he knew what he was doing, so I had no fears."
Leonhardt said the Caps players were pumped up to have him on the ice for warmups.
"They were awesome. They couldn't have been better," he told NHL.com. "I've practiced a couple times with the team, so the guys were familiar with me, and I travel with the team because I do the Web site. The guys were cheering and high-fiving me.
"Before the game, they were telling me, 'Be yourself. You've been doing this your whole life.' They made me feel really comfortable. In the warmup, I didn't want them to not shoot their hardest because it was me. I tried to challenge them — get them ready for the game."
While Leonhardt was taking part in the warmup, Varlamov’s plane was touching down and he was hurriedly getting dressed in the car en route from the airport to the Verizon Center, with Ian Anderson, director of team services, at the wheel. Varlamov replaced Leonhardt, who wore No. 80, on the Caps’ bench midway through the first period.
What was Leonhardt's reaction when he realized his brief NHL "career" was coming to an end?
"For a while, I was hoping he would hurry up, because there were some goaltender interference calls," Leonhardt said. "When I saw him, the first thought was, "Good, he's here," because you think about the team first. After that it was, 'Aw, it's over.'"
Though Leonhardt didn't see any action, it wasn't impossible that he could have — he skated at Thursday's practice because Johnson had a sore hip after a fall during Wednesday's 3-1 win over Boston, and Boudreau wanted to give him the day off.
"It didn't cross my mind," he said during the between-periods interview of the possibility of actually facing shots in an NHL game. "Before the game, I was talking with (goaltending coach) Dave Prior, and he was telling me tendencies of the 'D' and communication, and I was like, 'Dave, let's hope we don't have to worry about that.'"
Leonhardt, 26, played two years for SUNY Oswego in New York and two years for Neumann College near Philadelphia. According to U.S. College Hockey Online, the Waterloo, Ontario, native had a 13-2-2 record in 21 appearances during his four years in college, including a 7-1-2 mark with a 2.66 goals-against average and one shutout in 2004-05, his second year at Oswego.
His one regret was that his parents didn't get to see the game, though they did see him later on television highlight packages.
"Because of the flight stuff. I told my parents to be aware — to try to find somewhere that had the Center Ice package — but they couldn't," he said. "They live in Grand Bend, Ontario, in the middle of nowhere. They couldn't find a bar or anywhere that had Center Ice. They didn't get to watch the game."
After the game, it was back to the more mundane duties of a Web producer.
"I had to do my job after that," Leonhardt said in a phone interview with NHL.com that took place after his Web work was done. "I didn't get the night off."
Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.