By Bill Hoppe
History says David Leggio might push through again and secure his long-shot chance in the NHL. Four years into a diverse professional career, it’s no longer wild to imagine the Williamsville native someday tending net for the Sabres.
At each stop, the St. Joe’s graduate has seized his opportunity and created a better one.
The 27-year-old went undrafted out of Clarkson University, yet dazzled in the ECHL as a rookie. He backstopped his top Finnish league team to a championship in 2009-10, earning a contract from his hometown Buffalo Sabres. In Portland last season, his strong play kept hot prospect Jhonas Enroth on the bench during the AHL playoffs.
“The one thing that David has done consistently is battle through the adversity of getting to where he’s going,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said during training camp. “He won a championship over in Europe. He had a year last year where he dressed ahead of Jhonas Enroth.
“I think those things speak for themselves on the way he played for that team down there.”
Now, with the Sabres’ top affiliate back in Rochester, Leggio finds himself in a different situation. The team no longer has a hotshot young goalie in the minors hogging playing time. Enroth graduated to the No. 2 role behind Ryan Miller this season.
So far, Leggio’s been splitting time beside Drew MacIntyre, an elite AHL netminder with two games of NHL experience. If the Sabres need a goalie, they’ll most likely summon one of the veterans.
While Ruff’s words hold meaning, Leggio doesn’t want them to go his head.
“You have to continue to work hard and get better in every possible aspect,” Leggio said Oct. 8 after making 22 saves in the Americans’ 5-2 season-opening loss in Copps Coliseum. “That’s always been my MO, kind of to work hard and try to be that guy. That’s always been my staple. That’s obviously a great comment. Take it and build it.”
Ruff’s acknowledged MacIntyre, 28, might have a slight edge over Leggio. He’s played 263 AHL contests to Leggio’s 41 and even started a preseason game. MacIntyre was also the Sabres’ third goalie on their season-opening European trip. Leggio had a concussion at the time.
“Obviously, last year was a little bit different,” Leggio said. “I knew that Jhonas was going to be the guy. But it was my job to push him and my job to chip away at his playing time. …
“This year, hopefully we can have a healthy competition. I think we will. Drew seems like he’s got a great attitude. I hope we can push each other to get better.”
Through five games, Leggio’s played three times, posting a 2.60 goals-against average and .914 save percentage while winning twice. He’s only allowed three goals since the opener. MacIntyre has two appearances (1-1, 3.50, .868).
“There’s no question there’s going to be a lot of competition back there, which is good for both guys,” Amerks coach Ron Rolston said after the opening-night defeat.
For Leggio, being a part of the Sabres’ new affiliation is a little surreal.
“I grew up watching the Sabres,” Leggio said. “To be part of the affiliation is what I always dreamed of, to get an opportunity to one day play there.”
Leggio paid his dues on the way to Rochester, first with the Florida Everblades, where he was the ECHL’s top goalie. He turned that dynamic campaign — 27-7-3, 2.26, .916 — into his Finnish gig. His incredible postseason run with TPS — 1.57 and .952 in seven postseason tilts — caught the eye of the Sabres, who gave him a two-way deal shortly after he started in Portland.
His stats dipped with the Pirates — 22-12, 2.80 and .911 — but he played nine postseason games.
“I went to Finland, it was a great experience,” Leggio said. “That was my goal, to go to Finland and come back and try to play in the American League and sign an NHL deal.”
Leggio, who’s never played closer than four and half hours from home, is obviously excited about Rochester’s proximity.
“I’ll probably spend a little bit of money on tickets this year,” he said. “I have absolutely no problem spending it because I love when those people come see me play.”
At about $10 each, Leggio can afford Amerks tickets on his $75,000 AHL salary. Who knows, he could have to splurge for some NHL tickets soon, too?