David Leggio wishes he could relax, at least a little bit. There’d be fewer sleepless nights, not as many emotional outbursts. Plus, he might even enjoy winning for a change.
Of course, if Leggio was less intense, his list of accomplishments might not exist.
The backbone of the Rochester Americans returned home Tuesday as the Sabres’ minor-leaguers took over Buffalo for a day. Leggio, a Williamsville native, assumed his rightful place in the Amerks’ net inside First Niagara Center as “tons” of friends and family cheered during Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over Hamilton.
“I’ve been very fortunate to do what I do,” said the goaltender, who made 36 saves while playing in the home of the Sabres for the first time since he was 11 or 12 years old. “It’s really special being part of the team I grew up watching and all my friends and family love. It’s just been a great journey.”
It’s been an intense journey for the 28-year-old.
Leggio has been in the crease for the last 32 games played by Rochester, including all six this season. He’s a fixture because he refuses to give up goals or dreams. He was the Amerks’ Most Valuable Player last season and is clearly The Man this year, but he approaches each game like an unproven rookie.
“It’s good knowing that you’re the guy coming in, but it’s your job to lose and you could always lose it,” he said. “You can’t take it for granted and think, ‘Oh, I’m the starter, and that’s what I’ll be tomorrow.’ You’re only as good as your last game, and there’s always someone trying to take your job.
“You’ve got to earn it every night. I try to take the same attitude that if you have Dominik Hasek as your partner or something. You have to go in every night and be the best guy you can be for your team.”
It’s that desire to be the best – actually, the desire to be perfect – that makes Leggio storm off the ice after losses or unleash profanities at officials during meaningless preseason games. Those are the things he wishes he could tone down.
“I’m one of those guys that just hates to lose,” Leggio said. “Winning’s fun, but I just think I really, really hate to lose. Winning I feel is almost expected for whatever reason. I wish it wasn’t like that. I wish I really, really, really loved winning because I absolutely hate losing.
“I absolutely hate getting scored on. In practice, in games, I just can’t take it. That’s losing, right? You get scored on, you lose.
“Yeah, I can’t take it. There’s a lot of sleepless nights when you’re on a losing streak or whatever. It’s something you think about all the time.”
Amerks coach Ron Rolston learned quickly to let Leggio stew about the losses before approaching the goalie.
“After games, you have to let him decompress because he’s that into things and he wants to win that bad,” Rolston said. “He’s a competitor. That would be the first word that comes to my mind. What he’s had to go through in his career, I think he’s always been the underdog. He’s gotten to where he’s been just by his compete level and hard work.”
Leggio’s ride to the cusp of the NHL has been difficult and full of travel. He left St. Joe’s to become a two-time All-Star in the Eastern Junior Hockey League. After growing into one of the best goalies in the history of Clarkson University, Leggio dominated the ECHL before going overseas to win a championship in Finland.
He finally earned a shot as the Sabres’ top minor-leaguer in 2010-11, and he hasn’t relinquished it.
“This is special,” Leggio said. “You always have the dream of playing in the NHL, and I haven’t played in the NHL, but I’m not like a draft pick or something where guys are kind of bred to do that. I was in high school graduating and trying to make a junior team, and then I went from juniors just trying to make a college team. Then I went from the [ECHL] to Finland. I’ve always just had more short-term goals at the time of where I was.
“I think I’ve definitely exceeded everyone’s expectations. I just always felt that if I worked as hard as I possibly could, at the end of the day I’ll go as far as fate will take me.”