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Michael Leighton Comes Full Circle: Ex-Cane to Start Winter Classic

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Michael Leighton has seen a bit of everything this past year.  The ex-Carolina Hurricanes goalie started out this season the exact same way he ended up last season, sitting on the Canes' bench. 

Cam Ward played the front end of back-to-backs.  He also played the back end of them.  He played so many games in a row that Leighton probably forgot what it was like to get on the ice during a game. At one point, the backup had only started two games during a 65 game stretch, (including the playoffs), when the team decided to give him a start against Minnesota on November 15.

When Ward fell to injury later in November, the Hurricanes by-passed the goalie once again and signed Manny Legace, who was playing in the AHL at the time.  Legace started the very next game, as the Canes coaching staff pretty much proved beyond any doubt that they had zero confidence in their original backup.

Leighton finally did get a chance when Legace struggled and started a game against the Habs in Montreal.  But as luck would have it, he suffered a groin injury during the game and had to be replaced.

Most agreed that Legace had out-played Leighton as both battled to remain in Carolina and Leighton was eventually placed on waivers in mid-December.  The Flyers picked him up on re-entry, at half the cost of his $600,000 annual salary.   

Since then, things have gone pretty well for the goalie who once set a record with 90 plus saves in a single AHL playoff game.  Leighton is 4-0 while with the Flyers and has a save percentage of .951 along with a GAA of 1.50.

Leighton attributes some of his success to Flyers goalie coach, Jeff Reese. 

"Jeff Reese and I have been working on some things that he wanted to tweak in my game and so far, things have been going well," Leighton said. "He just tried to simplify my game a little bit and use shorter movements. He kind of slowed things down and I don't have to work so hard. I've been working on it in practice and so far in games it's been working well.

"Reese went over some video from games that I played in Carolina and picked out a few things," Leighton said. "My first day here, we spent about a half hour watching video. He showed me how he wants me to play and how I had been playing. It didn't change my game too much but he tweaked a few things and it's been
going well."

Did the Philadelphia goalie coach see something in Leighton's game that Tom Barrasso did not see?

The backup goalie will not be sitting the bench while on hockey's biggest stage today.   Leighton will start the Winter Classic for the Flyers and will be facing Boston goalie Tim Thomas.  All across North America, people will be asking, "Who in the world is Michael Leighton?".

Will he get his name etched in the record books as the winning goalie for the Flyers in one of the most watched games in history?  He joins another ex-Cane, coach Peter Laviolette in his quest for victory.