The end of goalie Manny Legace
's career has the look and feel of its beginning.
Maybe not in his worn-down body, which just a couple of weeks ago almost forced him into retirement for good.
And maybe not in overall mental acuity. Or, as Legace himself puts it, "I'm still dumb as a box of rocks."
Legace jokes a lot like that, punctuating most breaks in his conversation with the laugh of a mischievous school kid.
After spending last season in Germany, Manny Legace
is hoping for one last crack at playing in the NHL. (Photo: Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
That's the ease of a man comfortable in both his skin and his surroundings, which Legace can check off on both counts. At age 38 he's right back where his pro career started, with Springfield of the AHL.
"I feel at home. Nothing has changed much," he said. "I'd rather be in Columbus, but I got lucky coming here."
The granting of Legace’s preferred -- and perhaps final -- hockey wish will depend upon whether he can use Springfield for the same type of bounce as he did in the mid-1990s.
Legace, who played in Germany last season, is dressing for the Falcons on a tryout deal. The parent Blue Jackets brought him in for a look as possible insurance to starter Steve Mason
because Mark Dekanich
is out at least two more weeks with an ankle sprain and Curtis Sanford
is sidelined longer than that with a groin injury.
"That story is yet to be told," Blue Jackets assistant general manager Chris MacFarland said of Legace's comeback potential. "If something else were to happen, we know that Manny could come up and give us some games. We're anxious to see what he has left. He should get an opportunity the next few weeks to show us and the rest of the hockey world what he could do."
At this point, Legace knows that's about as wide as his door will swing open.
"You don't have much choice. You have to go where the jobs are," he said. "I understand where I am in my career. I'm more of a security blanket now. I'll do whatever they want. You start thinking, what are they thinking? Then you think you have it figured out, that doesn't happen."
Legace's debut with Springfield in 1994 promised a much different perspective. He played in 118 career games with the Falcons, posting a record of 53-45-15. During the 1995-96 season, Legace won the AHL's award as the league's top goaltender and he remains the Falcons' all-time leader in shutouts with eight.
He went on to play 365 career NHL games with a record of 187-99-41 and a 2.41 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage for Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and Carolina. He spent six seasons with Detroit, where he was a member of the 2001-02 Stanley Cup champs.
His boomerang back to North America this season first took him to San Antonio, where parent club Florida wanted to check him out as insurance.
"I knew I wasn't going to be there all season," Legace said. "I was a backup for five years in Detroit. I know that role pretty good. I'm very comfortable in that role. I'm a guy who can sit out a month-and-a-half and go in and not miss a beat. It's tougher for a young guy to do that."
"I love competing. It's still fun for me. Oh, it will be tough to let it go, but hopefully it won't be for another two or three years." -- Manny Legace
Legace played just 20 minutes in San Antonio, but that was a cameo that almost cost him the rest of his career. In a contest against Chicago on Oct. 8, a Wolves player ran into his left leg. Legace hurt his quad, but it’s likely that a knee brace he was wearing at the time spared him from severe ligament damage.
Legace needed two weeks to recover from the quad injury and Columbus decided his body of work dictated at least one more look.
"It just happened so fast," Legace said. "I talked to my agent on a Wednesday, and I was on a plane the next day. Friday, I played. It's been such a whirlwind. I haven't had much time to think about it."
Legace made his second-act debut with the Falcons on Oct. 21, giving up two goals on 22 shots in a 3-0 loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Two days later he gave up four goals on 31 shots in a 4-1 loss to Connecticut.
"I'm trying to get the rust off," he said. "I feel like I can still play the game at a high level. Goaltenders can play longer, because it's more mental. As goalies get older, they get smarter. I still understand the game a little better."
The real charm of Springfield is how it helps Legace enjoy the bigger picture. He and his wife live in Detroit in the offseason, but Legace has two children from a previous marriage who reside in Springfield.
Sabrina, 16, is a golfer. The day he arrived back in Springfield, Legace was able to rush off the plane to catch one of her matches.
His 13-year-old son, also named Manny, plays hockey and takes his position in net over his father's objections.
"I tried to talk him out of it. 'Why don't you be a defenseman?'" Legace said. "He said, 'No, I want to play goal.' He really loves it."
Wonder where he got that from.
"I love competing. It's still fun for me," Legace said. "Oh, it will be tough to let it go, but hopefully it won't be for another two or three years."