When talking about David Leggio, former Clarkson coach George Roll made it a point to mention how hard he worked for him. Yes, on the ice, but it was off the ice that really struck him.
When Coach Roll’s wife Paula battled brain cancer, it was Leggio, a Williamsville, N.Y., native, who stepped up for the former coach who had taken a gamble on him. Leggio organized a fundraiser to help with the struggle. Roll could not have been more flattered: “Him and his wife (Kristen) did a ton of work. I think they raised over nine, ten thousand dollars. He just took it upon himself to do that. That obviously means a lot to me and my family. I just can’t say enough about what he did for us.”
Though Leggio’s generosity had surprised him, it probably should not have. Battling is in his blood. That he would try to help someone in a battle as intense as that with cancer seems fitting. In fact, it was that mentality that had attracted Coach Roll to him in the first place: “One game I saw him, I think he gave up eight or nine goals, but he was relentless.” That demeanor encouraged the coach to roll the dice. “We offered him a walk-on spot to come and be on the team. He never gave up hope that he could play at the Division 1 level.”
In 2008, in his final two weekends playing for Clarkson, Leggio’s compete level provided five exciting, yet heartbreaking, hockey games. Weekend one was the ECAC final series against Colgate. Leggio shut out the Raiders in game one, but Colgate would bounce back with a 4-3 victory. Then, in the deciding Game 3, Colgate completed the comeback with a double-overtime win. That would have been a tough way to end a career, but Clarkson had qualified for the NCAA tournament Not that life would get easier. Clarkson opened with an upset of St. Cloud State. Leggio and the Golden Knights held a team with three top-15 scorers to just one goal. In the next round, Clarkson was pitted against the No. 1 Michigan Wolverines. They gave the maize and blue a scare, but the Wolverines were too much. They handed Clarkson a 2-0 loss.
That collegiate ending insinuates a story of one of those “almost” underdogs, the guys who beat the odds but never beat them all. His professional career did start out that way. In his first full year as a pro, Leggio mostly battled with Anton Khudobin for the starting gig with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. He would put up the stronger numbers, but wasn’t sure it was enough to earn him a great look at the AHL level. This prompted Leggio to take a detour to Finland. There, he gave Turku a dynamic goaltending duo (with Atte Engren), then he was stellar in the playoffs, posting a leaguebest 1.57 goals-against mark. In his second professional season, Leggio was a champion.
With the new bragging point on his résumé, Leggio returned to North America, joining the Portland Pirates of the AHL for the 2010-11 season. The two seasons following that, he would find himself back on familiar turf. With the Rochester Americans, Leggio put together his two best years in the AHL. However, the Americans were not able to make a deep run. After another two years, with numbers going the wrong way, Leggy was forced into a more drastic change of scenery. “It was only about 20 games or so,” Leggio recounted about his shaky 2014-15 AHL campaign, “but, unfortunately, that was enough for a team to not take a chance on me. Luckily, Red Bull signed me in late October (2015).”
The Munich team had just come off its strongest season, finishing second in the regular season, but was swept in the first round. Coach Don Jackson and staff were looking to shake things up to erase that bad memory. “The excuses are all over the board,” Coach Jackson acknowledged. “That’s what happens when you lose in the first round. Needless to say, it was a very tough playoff losing four straight. However, we still had enough players to win and didn’t.” Jackson credited manager Christian Winkler, a former goalie, with pinpointing Leggio. “(He) put a list together of available goaltenders. We decided David was the best one, and now we feel we were 100 percent right with David.”
To crack a European roster as a North American goalie is somewhat of an accomplishment in itself. With the many rules and limitations regarding import players across the leagues of the continent, most teams hesitate to spend a roster spot on a goaltender. Leggio tried to downplay the significance: “If you’re providing an asset to a club, you should be OK to get more contracts,” he said.
Leggio proved quite the asset to Red Bull. He finished his rookie season with the best goals-against average in the league (2.02) and managed to boost that number in the playoffs (1.76). Leggio had helped carry Munich back over the hump to the top of the German League. “In Finland, with TPS, we weren’t even supposed to make the playoffs, and with Red Bull, we finished first during the regular season,” he noted. “So, it’s completely different expectations.”
The results in his second European season, however, were the same. With German standout Danny aus den Birken also part of the goaltending corps, Leggio has had to share the regular-season workload over the past two seasons. Two seasons ago, Leggio had earned the right to carry the team to the title. Last season, it was aus den Birken who was deemed the hot hand. Losing only two of the team’s 14 playoff games, aus den Birken never gave Leggio a chance to steal the job. Munich seems to have taken a Pittsburgh Penguins approach to goaltending and, as Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury combined to lead the Pens to back-to-back titles, so, too, did Leggio and aus den Birken. Like Fleury, Leggio won his third (overall) championship.
Like Fleury, Leggio took it all in stride: “You have to be able to adapt to anythingin pro hockey. I have had years where I played 64 games or split or backed up. You need to do your best when you get in. We have shared the work load the last two years, but with the quality of our club, everyone has had to take less of a role due to our depth, which is our strongest asset.”
Unlike Pittsburgh with Fleury, Munich has decided to keep Leggio around as it challenges for a three-peat. “The first criterion is winning,” Coach Jackson emphasized. “When you have two (goalies) that keep proving they can win, what do you do? When it becomes not possible to keep them both based on everything that has to do with winning, then we make a move. Clearly, both goalies want to play every game, and we know that. They have both voiced their desire.”
Nonetheless, Leggio is ready to compete, again, for time between the pipes, another championship, and, if the chips fall the right way, maybe even an Olympic medal.
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