Wednesday

Ray Leblanc

Ray Leblanc is a long time minor league goalie. he's played in some weird places like Pinebridge, Flint, New Haven, Saginaw, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Jacksonville....the list goes on. He appeared in just one NHL contest.

All in all Leblanc, an American born in Fitchburg, MA, has had a very forgettable career. But for one two-week period in 1992 Leblanc was the talk of the hockey world!

Leblanc was the red hot goalie who almost single-handedly got the United States national team into the medal round of the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France! In the days before NHL participation He was absolutely brilliant as his much weaker US team showed up some of the tournament favorites.

It was as if this veteran had come out of nowhere. Suddenly he was the poster boy of American hockey. His Stars and Stripes goalie mask is now legendary.

An 11th-hour addition to Team USA, Leblanc sparkled in goal as the United States became the only team in the tournament to play through the preliminary round with an undefeated record. He was the focal point on a team that - temporarily, at least - captured the country's imagination.

"Ray's history had been that he can be pretty streaky, as well as being well-qualified," says Dave Peterson, who coached that team. "Once we started with Ray and saw how well he was playing, we pretty much were going to stay with him unless he fell down. And, of course, he didn't, until we fell down as a team near the end."

For those two weeks in France, LeBlanc played like a star. His goaltending was the biggest reason for Team USA's strongest Olympic showing since it won the gold medal in 1980 in Lake Placid. LeBlanc turned away 281 of 298 saves percentage. Two of his victories in the preliminary round were shutouts: 2-over Germany and 3-0 over Poland.

Shortly after the U.S. lost a semifinal game to the Unified Team (former Soviet Union), 5-2, and then lost the bronze-medal game, 6-1, to Czechoslovakia, and the Americans went home without a medal. If they had, Leblanc would have been compared to Jim Craig - who backstopped the US to a shocking gold medal victory in 1980 at Lake Placid.

At the time Leblanc was property of the Chicago Blackhawks. After the Olympics were over, the Hawks rewarded Leblanc with some time up in the big leagues. He was able to experience life the NHL way, pick up a NHL paycheck, and even got into one game - a 5-1 Blackhawks victory over the San Jose Sharks.

However Leblanc's taste of the NHL was just that - a taste. He would vanish from national consciousness as quickly as he burst into it. He returned to the minors the following year and struggled. He would never again get a shot at the NHL. Instead he would toil in the minor leagues until the turn of the century.

"It used to get me down about not having an NHL career," he said. "But the older I get, the more I realize how fortunate I am to have made a career out of playing the sport I love, and for so long. I've been blessed. The Olympics were a dream come true, and that's something I'll always have."

7 comments:

Sal said...

Nice article about Leblanc.

I was at his one NHL game against the Sharks. The only goal he gave up was on a breakaway. The crowd chanted "USA! USA!" every time Leblanc made a save, and gave him a standing ovation when he allowed that lone goal.

Two seasons later, Leblanc became a regular for the Chicago Wolves of the IHL. He still had a lot of fans in Chicago because of his Olympic heroics.

Sal

My hockey autograph blog

Justin said...

I remember when Ray came back from the Olympic that year. The first game he played back in the U.S. was with Indianapolis in Kalamazoo. He recieved a 10 minute standing ovaitoion at an away game. I had never before heard Wings Stadium that loud before and never heard it that loud again. I will remember that few minutes for the rest of my life.

Anonymous said...

This is my youngest brother, I have watched him grow up working very hard and seen him skate all year round. I am truly proud of him
and he retired at the right time,when Hockey is still fun!
You are always number one to me!!
Cindy

Ken said...

I watched Ray when he was in goal for the Indianapolis Ice. I will never forget the games he played in the 92 Olympics. He carried the team to the bronze medal round but lost to the Czechs 6-1. If the team had played as well as Ray did in the Olympics they would have wore gold medals home. I was in the stands the night you were in goal for your only NHL game with the Chicago Blackhawks playing the Sharks. I felt cheated that you were playing and I wouldn't get to see Belfour. But you were magnificent in a 5-1 win. After the game we all had forgotten about Belfour and talked about you all the way home. Thanks Ray for the memories. Ken

Nik Simon said...

Ray came to San Diego on many occasions playing in the IHL. He was always a fine gentleman to the fans and signed autographs after the games. He gave me his game stick at one game. It would have been great to see him play for the Blackhawks longer. Regardless of his minor league status, Ray is a real PRO and proved to be very inspirational.

Anonymous said...

I was enthralled by Ray taking the largely underwhelming US team on his back and driving them into the medal round. For that he will always be one of my personal favorites.

I was lucky to discover one night that I could pick up WBBM on my radio despite being in NYS. I taped Ray's one and only game, wishing I was there.

When Ryan Miller got his post-Olympic ovations in 2010, I thought of Ray. I hope he realizes that one game against San Jose is one more than I will play and for that he is a hero to a few of us.

artix latix said...

orcI knew Ray when he played for the Xarolina Thunder Birds in Winston-Salem, N.C. and still have an autographed "goalie stick" that he gave my son. We sure were proud of him at the Olympic games.
Bob Moore

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