GLENS FALLS -- Michael Leighton heard a couple of fans yelling at him before the game and he knew where to look.
The current Rockford goalie was a fan favorite when he played for the Adirondack Phantoms. Leighton looked up at the Section N Hecklers, gave them a wave and got a few smiles back.
“I know they enjoyed me being here and I enjoyed them when I was playing here,” he said after a 4-0 win over the Adirondack Flames on Friday night. “I made a lot of good friends here and met a lot of good people.”
Leighton, who some fans consider the best Phantom to have come through Glens Falls, wondered what his reception would be like before the game. When he made a brief return in 2013, Leighton had the longest line at the post-game autograph session. But now he was on the other side.
During the game, there was almost no sign of recognition of the goalie who brought the Phantoms as close as they ever got to the playoffs. After the game, however, the fans started cheering.
Immediately after the buzzer, Leighton received lots of applause, and waved to the crowd. Then he was named the No. 1 star and the ovation got louder. There was no doubt the fans knew who he was their allegiance to the team was just stronger.
Leighton was here before with Rockford but didn’t play. He and fellow goalie Antti Raanta have been alternating starts. He was pretty excited when he saw his turn would fall in Glens Falls.
It’s a little different with the building decked in red instead of orange and a whole new group of players, but the Civic Center is still the same building with many familiar faces in the stands.
“It’s a good city,” Leighton said. “It’s too bad there isn’t going to be an AHL team here next year but at least there’s another team.”
Without a car, Leighton couldn’t get too far away from the Queensbury Hotel to visit his favorite spots, but he did lead some teammates to Bistro Tallulah after finding Rock Hill Bake House closed. And he checked out Spot Coffee, new to the area since he left.
Leighton’s return to Glens Falls was a memorable one. The shutout was his 41st and tied him for second all-time. He needs just four more to tie Johnny Bower for the record.
The game was less memorable for the Flames, who looked lackluster. Forward Garnet Hathaway and defenseman Mark Cundari said the effort was there, but coach Ryan Huska didn’t think his team was as engaged as it needed to be.
“Any edge you have to find this time of year needs to come from within,” Huska said. “Players really have to push and motivate themselves.”
The Flames took only six shots in the first period and five in the fourth. There were 14 in the second, but that’s only one-third of the game.
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Hathaway felt it came down to getting back to their game and finding some “dirty goals.” There were a lot of almosts for the Flames, great openings when someone couldn’t corral the puck or rushed shots that sailed wide.
“At the end of the night, we have to be better,” Huska said. “We know what’s on the line. We’re scratching and clawing for a playoff spot. You have to compete.”
IceHogs 4, Flames 0
Rockford 1 2 1 — 4
Adirondack 0 0 0 — 0
First period: 1, Rockford, Rasmussen 11 (Walters, van Riemsdyk), 7:41. Penalties: Bass Rfd (fighting), 8:10 Sieloff Adk (fighting), 8:10 Arnold, Adk (holding), 13:05.
Second period: 2, Rockford, Labrie 9 (van Riemsdyk, McNeill), 7:09. 3, Rockford, Abbott 13 (Mashinter, Regin), 13:06. Penalties: Svedberg, Rfd (cross-checking), 20:00 Agostino, Adk (roughing), 20:00.
Third period: 4, Rockford, Broadhurst 1 (Johns), 2:55. Penalties: Ross, Rfd (fighting), 9:29 Tousignant, Adk (fighting), 9:29 Walters, Rfd (boarding), 13:10.
Shots on goal: Rockford 12-10-12—34. Adirondack 6-14-5—25.
Power plays: Rockford 0-1 Adirondack 0-1.
Goalies: Rockford, Leighton 18-11-2 (25 shots-25 saves). Adirondack, Thiessen 9-13-2 (34 shots-30 saves).
Referee: Chris Brown.