Utica, N.Y. - The Utica Comets signed veteran goalie, Michael Leighton, to a professional tryout contract, announced Tuesday.
Leighton has appeared in 341 career AHL games holding a record of 242-177-49, posting a 2.37 goals against average (GAA) and a .917 save percentage, over the course of a 17-year career.
He ranks first all-time in the AHL with 50 career shutouts, and his 242 wins are fifth all-time in the league.
Leighton's also appeared in 111 NHL games between the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, where he has a record of 37-43-10-4 with a 2.98 GAA and a .900 Save %.
He is most recently coming off a brief stint with the AHL's Ontario Reign where he was 1-1 in three games, struggling with a 4.46 GAA and .859 save %. He was released by the Reign on December 1st.
He's spent the last month training with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), hoping he'd get another shot in the pros.
"I was contemplating retiring for a while. I was still skating and feeling good with the junior team and my agent was still talking to teams here and there, and was very close to signing with a couple of teams in the last month," Leighton said. "It just fell through so I just kind of kept working out and kept working hard and it worked out, so I'm happy.
Tuesday marked Leighton's first practice with the Comets, after making a seven-hour drive to Utica from his home in Ontario, Canada on Monday. While he hasn't seen any action with the Comets yet, he has played here as an opponent on multiple occasions.
"I don’t know too much about the area or the team," he said. "I know that every time I played here the stands are full and it’s a really exciting atmosphere, so I’m really excited for that."
Leighton also said his end goal is that he hopes to ink an NHL deal with the Vancouver Canucks so that he could be an option for a potential call-up should they need it. However, his main focus at this point is to earn a spot in the lineup with the Comets.
"I feel pretty good," he said after his first practice with the club. "I've been working hard to mimic game situations with the OHL team, the Spitfires, but just getting the harder shots [from pros] and getting used to them, I think I'm in pretty decent shape right now."
He also hopes to bring a welcome veteran presence into the Comets locker room.
"I just want to be a really positive guy and help out the younger guys," Leighton said. "I always say that I hope those young guys look at me and say, 'wow that guy is 37 years old and still the hardest worker on the ice.' That’s my goal is to work hard and help the team win."
Comets head coach, Trent Cull, said that Leighton provides a viable option to help solidify the organization's goalie depth, after the seemingly permanent call-up to the big club for Thatcher Demko earlier in the month, and the likelihood of being without Richard Bachman for the remainder of the season with a torn Achilles tendon.
"Michael is a guy whose resume is a long one, he’s played a lot in the league and I think he’s a great compliment right now to [Ivan Kulbakov]," said Cull. "Just a solidifying kind of solid, kind of stoic, kind of veteran-like guy, that's what we're looking."
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