April 3, 2012

AHL Journal: Legace feeling like a kid for Falcons

By Dan Hickling

The hair is still full, but noticeably grayer. The joints are stiffer and the eyes more of a problem. 

Springfield Falcons netminder Manny Legace (Photo by Dan Hickling)

But otherwise, Springfield Falcons goalie Manny Legace is feeling like a kid. And playing like one, too. Legace, a spry 39, has played with renewed vigor since returning this season inprodigal fashion to the Springfield Falcons.

Playing, by his own admission, “my best hockey in a few years”, Legace is wrappingup a campaign that put him back on hockey's radar.

Signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets as a minor-league insurance policy, Legace defied any doubters (himself included) by recording a 2.74 goals-against average in 32 starts.That was actually better than his numbers (3.03) of 12 years ago, when he pulled his last serious tour of duty with the Falcons.

“It was really good up to a month and a half ago,” said Legace. “It was really, really good. I was playing the best I'd played in a couple years. Things were going really well.”

Ah, but what happened six weeks back to derail him? At first, it was hard to say.

“I got into a slump and I couldn't figure out why,” he said. “I wasn't seeing the puck very well. It's kind of important as a goalie to see the puck. I was battling it.”

Legace, as it turned out, had developed a tiny bit of water on the retina of his eye. Doctors told him it was a freak occurrence.

“It was just a rare thing,” he said, “that happened to guys my age, the doc said. I said, 'Oh, thanks, doc.' It was a weird thing that happened. It was caused by stress.”

Stress? Goaltending? Hard to figure that. The condition put Legace on the shelf from mid-February until last weekend (except for one game). It turned out that the only remedy was rest. Neither eye drops nor surgery would do the trick.

Fortunately, Legace, despite his “advanced” age, flashed the recuperative powers of a much younger man.

“It healed faster than the doctors thought it would,” he said. “Thank the 'Big Man Upstairs' that I got lucky that it healed by the time (the season) finished.”

And Legace came back to the Falcons, who are still trying to slip into a playoff berth, in the nick of time. He was impressive in back-to-back wins against both Providence and Worcester, helping knock those foes further out of the playoff picture.

“I need about five more games,” said Legace, referring to what remains of Springfield's schedule. “Five more.”

Around the AHL

Rosters continue to shuffle as amateur players make their way into the AHL and NHL teams pull up players for the stretch run. The most significant move made was the promotion by Boston of Providence goalie Anton Khudobin to back up Tim Thomas and Marty Turco. Khudobin had missed several weeks with a wrist injury, but had recently rounded back into shape. … On the ATO front, Columbus signed center/wing Boone Jenner – a former second-round pick – and sent him to Springfield.

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.