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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 16, 2011

Jay Leach: A tour through the professional hockey system

By Jordan J. Michael

ALTAMONT –– Calling Jay Leach a veteran player of professional hockey would be a serious understatement. The well-traveled defenseman has played for 17 different teams over the last 10 years.

Raised in Altamont, and a player for Albany Academy, Leach has seen it all since starting his professional career with the East Coast Hockey League’s Mississippi Sea Wolves in 2001. That first season was one of Leach’s most productive –– he scored three goals, assisted on 13, and racked up 116 penalty minutes.

Much time (and mileage) has passed since his first skate on professional ice.

“Looking back, I’ve had a lot of great experiences and a lot of not-so-great ones,” said Leach, who now makes his home in Boston with his wife, Kathryn Tappen. “I try to pull from the positives. I’ve gotten something out of all of this and I’m learning from everything.”

Leach, 31, ended the 2010-11 season by playing seven games with the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League. Before that, he played 16 games with the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League. And, prior to that, still in the same season, he played 50 games for the Worcester Sharks.

The Providence Bruins (AHL), Trenton Titans (ECHL), New Jersey Devils (NHL), and the Lowell Devils (AHL) have each signed Leach at least two different times during his career. Leach’s finest season was with the Augusta Lynx (ECHL) in 2002-03 –– he scored eight goals, had 11 assists, and 162 penalty minutes.

“I wanted a long, steady hockey career, but I never completed that task,” Leach said. “Obviously, I’m not too upset because I’m still playing.”

Leach got his first taste of the NHL in 2006 with the Boston Bruins, after being called up from the AHL affiliate in Providence. He played two games with the Bruins and then played a full season with Providence in 2006-07. In 2007-08, Leach played in two games for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but spent most of his time with the Norfolk Admirals and Portland Pirates of the AHL.

The New Jersey Devils signed Leach before the 2008-09 season and he was able to play in 24 games that year after playing in 24 games for the Lowell Devils, New Jersey’s AHL partner at the time.

“You can’t really look back in this business,” said Leach. “It changes all of the time. I’m very fortunate to be playing hockey.”

The next season (2009-10) started with Leach still signed with the Devils, but he was sent down to Lowell before play started. After playing 12 games for Lowell, Leach was put on re-entry waivers by the Devils’ organization and picked up by the Montreal Canadiens.

The NHL introduced re-entry waivers with its 2005 collective bargaining agreement. With narrow exceptions, any player who was subject to waivers before assignment to the minor league must clear re-entry waivers before being called back up to the NHL if the player is on a one-way contract or on a two-way contract with an AHL salary over $105,000.

Montreal, which claimed Leach, was responsible for half his salary and cap hit, while New Jersey was responsible for the other half.

“A dream”

Leach told The Enterprise that he was excited to play for the Canadiens, an original six NHL team.

“It was terrific because I’m a life-long hockey fan, and Montreal is such a classic hockey town,” said Leach, who played in seven games for the team. “It was a dream. The Canadiens are like the Red Sox or Yankees of hockey. It’s a way of life up there and it felt like a religious experience.”

Still, Leach’s stay was short as Montreal tried to trade him; he landed back on waivers. The San Jose Sharks (NHL) picked him up on Dec. 1, 2009. Leach was with the Sharks for the rest of the 2009-10 season, playing in 28 games.

Leach scored his first NHL goal on an empty net. “I think that was fitting for my career,” he said with sarcasm.

“I’ve met so many new players, and I call many of them my friends,” Leach said. “San Jose had some wonderful people.”

Leach met his wife through his work. Tappen is the studio host for the Boston Bruins. She would be on the television when the San Jose team was in the locker room before a home game, Leach said. Because of the time difference, the Sharks’ players would always watch the East Coast games.

“All the coaches would walk in and see my wife on the TV screen,” said Leach. “They always said something, like, ‘Hey, I like that outfit she’s wearing.’ It was embarrassing, but pretty funny at the same time.”

Signing back with San Jose for the 2010-11 season, Leach found himself at the AHL affiliate in Worcester for 50 games. This was convenient for him because he was able to live with Tappen in Boston. “I don’t like being away from Kathryn all of the time,” he said.

Close to home

Leach said that San Jose’s general manager asked him if he’d like to be traded back to New Jersey. Leach agreed to move yet again, this time to Albany, where the Devils’ AHL team was now located. He played 16 games in Albany and seven in New Jersey to finish out the regular season.

“It was fun to play in my home town,” Leach said. “I crashed with the folks for a while and they were able to see me play. That was nice.”

After all of this time relaying around the professional hockey system, Leach took a much-needed vacation with his brother, Andrew, when the hockey season came to a close.

The brothers started out in Lake Tahoe; drove to Bend, Ore. to see their sister, Allison; then flew to Montana and drove through Yellowstone National Park, down to Jackson Hole. The trip continued with a drive to Denver, Colo. Leach said that he and his brother also checked out the Grand Teton National Park, too.

“I thought the Grand Teton was even better than Yellowstone,” said Leach. “Huge mountains come out of nowhere. We wanted to do this trip for a long time. I’m glad we did.”

Leach didn’t refer to his hockey trek as a vacation, more like a series of experiences. He’s currently signed with New Jersey for the 2011-12 season.

“It’s still a job,” Leach said. “But, it’s not fun to be moving constantly. My wife isn’t around –– where will you go?”

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