Goaltender Michael Leighton has added some body art since last playing for the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2009-10 season.
His right arm has a tattoo of a compass on the shoulder, then a map below it, then a maze further down the arm.
“The compass is for the many directions I’ve taken in my career,” Leighton said. “The map has the countries I’ve played in.”
And the maze?
“Sums up my career, doesn’t it?” he said, smiling.
Leighton, 35, was signed by the Hurricanes last month to play for the Charlotte Checkers, their American Hockey League affiliate, and work with young goalies Alex Nedeljkovic and Daniel Altshuller. He also can be an easy recall by Carolina should either of the Canes’ goalies, Cam Ward or Eddie Lack, be sidelined.
“They’ve got two solid goalies up here, I knew that coming in,” Leighton said. “I just want to go down there and help the young guys, hopefully show them a little bit of leadership and kind of guide them toward what they should be doing in the future.
“And also play well. I want to win. If I go down to Charlotte I want to win games and hopefully win a championship.”
Not that Leighton has given up on the NHL. Playing for the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL last season, he was called up by the Chicago Blackhawks and got in a game.
“I didn’t feel out of place at all,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting a shot and getting a chance to play. If that shot ever comes again, so be it. I just want to continue to play hockey, and I’m feeling good.”
Leighton has played 106 games with four NHL teams since making his debut in the 2002-03 season, when he had a shutout for the Blackhawks in his first game. He was with the Canes parts of three seasons, backing up Ward, and was a member of the 2008-09 team that reached the Eastern Conference finals.
“It doesn’t seem like it has been that long ago, but it has been,” Leighton said.
Placed on waivers by the Canes on Dec. 15, 2009, Leighton was claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers. He soon was on the hockey ride of his career.
Leighton would start the Jan. 1, 2010 Winter Classic game against the Boston Bruins at snowy Fenway Park, losing 2-1 in overtime. But the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs would have more memorable moments – good and bad.
In the Eastern Conference finals against the Montreal Canadiens, Leighton had three shutouts – a franchise record for a playoff series – as the Flyers advanced. Just like that, he was the starting goalie in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks won in six games, clinching the Cup on a Patrick Kane overtime shot that was so sneaky fast that for a few seconds only two people knew he had scored – Kane and Leighton. Kane raised his arms and the celebration soon began.
Since that night, Leighton has been a man in transit. He spent time in the AHL. The 2013-14 season was spent with HC Donbass in Russia’s KHL Then back to the AHL.
“It was tough having success that year in Philly, then going through a stretch of some bad injuries the next year and a half,” he said. “It was a long road, a tough road for me.”
Leighton, who spent the past two years with the IceHogs, holds the AHL record for most career shutouts (46) and most saves in a game (98). But no one really wants to be a minor-league record holder.
Leighton signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Hurricanes and started the Canes’ preseason game Sunday against the Minnesota Wild. He stopped 20 of 21 shots before Nedeljkovic took over late in the second period.
Before the Canes called and made an offer, Leighton thought his playing days might have ended.
“This is a living for me and my family,” he said. “It’s a job, and I enjoy doing it, so I’ll do it as long as I can and as long as I feel I can still play.”