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."