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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 3, 2009

Jay Leach skates from little Altamont to the big time

By Jordan J. Michael

Jay Leach is on the New Jersey Devils’ roster for the upcoming season, but it’s a constant fight for the defenseman to stay in the National Hockey League.

“Every year is different. Young kids are coming into the league and trying to take your job,” said Leach, a 30-year-old Altamont native, who played 24 games for the Devils in 2008-09. “I have to take my knowledge and experience from last year and hope for the best.”

Leach got his first taste of the NHL in the 2005-06 season when he suited up with the Boston Bruins for two games. The Bruins were his favorite team growing up.

“It was a dream come true for my family and I because my father, Chris, was raised in Boston,” Leach said. “We beat Pittsburgh and it was interesting because it was Mario Lemieux’s last game in Boston and Sidney Crosby’s first game.”

In that first game with the Bruins, Leach got into a fight with Ryan Malone, now a player with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Leach is a physical player who stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 220 pounds. “I don’t try to get into fights, but I have to stick up for my teammates,” he said.

After spending 2006-07 with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, Leach played two more NHL games in 2007-08 with Tampa Bay. “Nothing happened there,” he said. “It was just another tease.”

Leach spent the rest of the 2008 season with the Norfolk Admirals and the Portland Pirates of the AHL. Leach had spent considerable time in the AHL since 2002 before finally landing a spot with the Devils last year.

Leach has a total of 53 points in his AHL career.

“I’ve been trying to slip into the NHL through the back door and I have a few times,” said Leach over the phone on Tuesday as he was getting ready for Devils’ camp. “Working extremely hard is the only way I’ll be able to stay.”

Growing up

Leach was born in Syracuse on Sept. 2, 1979 and moved to Altamont two weeks later. He was immediately thrown into a hockey atmosphere.

“I started skating when I was real young and I stuck with it,” Leach said. “Hockey was it for me. I enjoy the competition and the camaraderie. Also, it’s the fastest game on two feet.”

His uncle, Steven Leach, played in the NHL from 1986 to 2001 and his father, Chris Leach, played hockey at St. Lawrence University. “My father’s side is very much involved with hockey,” Leach said. “That’s how this all started.”

Jay Leach began playing competitive hockey with Schenectady Youth Hockey at the age of 5 and continued to do so until the age of 14. He started to think bigger when he made a couple of cuts for a United States Hockey Camp tryout at the age of 15.

“I felt more committed to hockey after I made those cuts for camp,” said Leach. “I wasn’t thinking about the pros, but I definitely wanted to play in college.”

Chris Leach and his friend Jim Salfi started the Capital Region Selects some years ago as an alternative to high school hockey. Jay Leach attended Albany Academy, but decided to play in the Selects league.

“My father was running and coaching the team, so that was the obvious choice,” Leach said. “The competition wasn’t that good in high school hockey and I wanted more of a challenge. I got to live at home and get coached by my father. It was win, win.”

Leach told The Enterprise that he was one of nine Selects players to make a Division I college hockey team. He decided to attend Providence College in 1997. He scored 52 points in four years with the Hockey East team.

“I was in a real hurry to play hockey after I finished high school,” said Leach. “Other schools wanted me to wait a year, but I wanted it bad. Providence was perfect because they allowed me to play right away.”

Building up

While Leach was attending Providence, the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL picked him up in the fifth round of the 1998 Entry Draft. It was an exciting moment for the Altamont native, but it didn’t amount to any time on the NHL ice.

“Hockey drafts are just like baseball; teams get you at a young age and then they wait to sign you, or don’t sign you at all,” Leach said. “I eventually signed a contract with Phoenix, but they changed management. I didn’t get much of an opportunity.”

From 2001 to 2005, Leach skated back and forth between the AHL and the ECHL, formerly the East Coast Hockey League, a premier “AA” hockey league. Leach’s best season in that stretch was with the Augusta Lynx in 2002-03 where he scored 19 points.

“It’s tough moving from place to place, but that’s what you have to do in this game,” said Leach. “It’s OK though, I love hockey.”

Leach is a big, physical defenseman who doesn’t take too many chances with the puck. He has been in a few fights. “I cover a lot of ice out there and I’ll drop my gloves if I have too,” he said. “I expect myself to play at a high level.”

The intensity Leach brings to the ice may be one of the main reasons why he played 24 games with the Devils last year. He spent the rest of the season with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Lowell, Mass.

“I’m quite happy about where I am right now. I’m slowly building,” said Leach. “The Devils played me 15 minutes a night and I had the pleasure of playing and practicing with future Hall of Fame players. New Jersey is a good fit.”

Leach hopes to continue the climb up to full-time NHL status. However, he’s not afraid to fall back down.

“If I land back down in the AHL, I’ll be disappointed, but it wouldn’t be all bad,” Leach said. “I get more ice time in the AHL and I’m still getting paid to play a sport that I love. I can’t complain.”

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