Legace's numbers do the talking

Goalie's play helping Canes

Staff writerMarch 10, 2010 

  • When: 7 p.m. today

    Where: Verizon Center, Washington

    Radio: WCMC-99.9

    TV: FSCR, NHL

— Manny Legace doesn't talk on game days.

"It's an old goaltender's superstition," he said, smiling.

Legace meant the superstition was an old one, not himself. But at 37, the Carolina Hurricanes goaltender is getting up in years.

Legace will start tonight for the Canes against the Washington Capitals, and he won't be talking to the media after the morning skate at the Verizon Center. But that's not to say he won't be talking.

Legace always talks - in practice, in the locker room, on the plane, at the hotel, during meals on the road. He's the kind of guy who keeps things light and breezy in a sport that all too often can be a tough, silent grind.

"He's a real good team player. Funny, loose," the Canes' Rod Brind'Amour said. "Even when he's not playing he still has a good attitude and is real positive. That's what you need.

"He's been through a lot. He's gotten his chance this year and he's played great."

Legace came to the Canes in an emergency situation, signing the day after goaltender Cam Ward suffered a slashed leg in the Nov. 7 game at Columbus. In 19 games, Legace has a 9-5-2 record, with a respectable 2.65 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.

But since Ward was sidelined a second time, sitting out the last month with back problems, Legace has been at his best.

He's unbeaten in five starts, with a 1.59 GAA and a .941 save percentage after shutting out the Atlanta Thrashers 4-0 on Sunday.

It was Carolina's first shutout of the season and the 24th of Legace's career.

But Legace's story is more than about numbers. It's about perseverance, about being knocked down - and falling down - and getting back up.

"He just loves being on the ice right now and appreciates his chance," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "He's had a great career but he still loves to play."

Legace was an All-Star in the 2007-08 season with the St. Louis Blues, making $2.5 million a year and established as a No. 1 goaltender in the league. But that all changed on the night of Oct. 24, 2008.

Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was to drop the ceremonial first puck before a Blues' game at Scottrade Center, and a red carpet was laid out in front of the Blues' bench. But as Legace stepped out, the carpet slipped, causing him to tumble.

Legace can now laugh - a little - about the accident, saying the McCain-Palin ticket didn't get his vote and then dropping the kicker, "Then again, I'm not a U.S. citizen so I couldn't vote anyway." But it was no laughing matter.

Legace, a Toronto native, missed five games because of a hip injury. Once back, he couldn't fully regain his form as Chris Mason took over as the Blues' No. 1 guy in net.

Legace was placed on waivers and cleared. He then angrily fought the Blues' decision to send him to Peoria of the American Hockey League before finally accepting the reassignment.

"My career was going pretty good, but that's what can happen," he said of his sudden All-Star to AHL slide. "I didn't handle it professionally, which is my fault.

"It was just a big, bad year. Everything went wrong that year and then it began to snowball all summer long."

Legace couldn't find a team that wanted to sign him for this season. The Thrashers finally offered him a tryout in preseason training camp and he later signed with their AHL team, the Chicago Wolves.

"Atlanta was gracious enough to open up their arms and take me in," he said.

Soon, the Hurricanes did the same. Which, in a way, seems fitting.

Legace was drafted by the Hartford Whalers in 1993 but never played for the Whalers. But he can now say he has played for the organization.

"You really don't know how a player will do, especially at that point in their career," said Canes general manager Jim Rutherford, a former NHL goalie. "Manny's a good team guy, and he fits in well. He gives all he's got."

Legace signed a one-year, $500,000 contract with Carolina. The Hurricanes may be interested in re-signing him after the season, but management also may decide to make Justin Peters, 23, the backup for Ward.

"He's certainly made a case for himself," Rutherford said of Legace.

And Legace, although hardly a chest-thumper, thinks it's a pretty good case. He thinks the Hurricanes, or some NHL team, should be interested in him.

"If you look at my year and my numbers, I think so," he said.

But for now, he'll keep trying to help the Canes win, laughing, talking and keeping his teammate loose all the way.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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