LEGACE: AS GOOD AS IT GETS – FOR ONE NIGHT

Manny Legace never held an NHL record. Not unless they keep records for sitting, or biting your lip, or rooting for the guy who took your job.

Legace could lead the league in those categories. When it comes to accepting being benched, Manny Legace makes Joey Harrington look rude.

But when it comes to career numbers as a starter, Legace is still considered “budding” at 32 years old, which is as weird in hockey as it is in a forest.

And until Thursday night, the closest he came to the NHL record book was sitting next to Dominik Hasek.

But in case you hadn’t noticed, these Wing fellahs are playing pretty good hockey, eh?

And Legace is a big part of that. He has started every game. And like his teammates, Manny entered Thursday night with nine wins in the month. That tied the record for most wins by a goalie in October.

No one in NHL history had ever won 10.

Now, granted, as records go, most wins by a goalie in October isn’t like breaking the four-minute mile. But the point of a record is that for one shining moment, you stand atop the heap. And no Wings goaltenders has ever deserved that more than Manny Legace.

And few have seen as many heaps.

Remember, Legace, maybe the world’s nicest human being, was still playing in Manitoba when he was 27. He has sometimes been known not by his given name but by the words “back-up-to” as in “back-up-to Hasek””back-up-to Curtis Joseph,””back-up-to Chris Osgood” or “back-up-to whomever the Wings sign next.”

Even this year, he wasn’t slated to start, but Osgood got hurt. And here we were, Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, just another weeknight game early in the season. No matter. Didn’t Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run in a weeknight game early in the season?

(OK. I know this isn’t 715 home runs. I’m just making a point.)

And the opponent was the Chicago Blackhawks, so familiar and unimpressive that the Joe was half-empty at game time. No matter. Didn’t Wilt Chamberlain score his 100 points in a semi-vacant gym in Hershey, Pa.?

(OK. I know it’s not 100 points. I’m just making a point.)

And here was Legace in one net, across the ice from Nikolai Khabibulin, who is only the reigning Stanley Cup champion goaltender. No matter. Didn’t Joe Montana earn his third Super Bowl MVP – the record – against the vaunted Denver Broncos’ defense?

(OK. I know this isn’t the Super Bowl. I’m just … well, you know.)

So the game starts. And the Wings look a little sluggish, especially on defense. And Legace is having to work hard, he’s stopping more shots than the Wings are taking. And Chicago’s Matt Ellison fires a hard one off him that he stops, but Ellison is right there for the ricochet and he puts it past and it’s 1-0, Blackhawks.

And after the Wings tie it, Jaroslav Spacek gets a wide-open look and whacks a goal beyond Legace to the back of the net, and it’s 2-1, Blackhawks. The Wings tie it again.

It’s 2-2 going into the final period.

And “Mr. October” is hanging in the balance.

But never let it be said that nice guys always finish benched by Steve Mariucci. The Wings got a power-play goal by Mathieu Schneider and insurance goals by Kris Draper and Brendan Shanahan and – ta da! – game over, Wings win, 5-2.

Manny Legace had his legacy.

“Did you ever have an NHL record before?” someone asked him afterward.

“Hycuk!” he said. Or some noise like that.

Then he added, “Most splinters in a game?”

Hadn’t thought of that one.

“It’s something to tell my grandchildren,” he said. “They’ll know their grandfather actually did something, and wasn’t just a slug sitting in a rocking chair.”

“You’re Mr. October now,” he was told.

“Yeah?” he said. “Too bad I’m not playing baseball. I could be making millions.”

That’s Legace. You won’t get him to celebrate himself. But typical of his career, on the night he made the record books, he also learned that Osgood, who is healthy again, will get the start Saturday night.

“Doesn’t that bother you?”

“No,” he said. “We have to get Ozzie in some games. This is a two-goalie system. It wouldn’t matter if we were 30-1. It’s a team game.”

It’s a team game. But it was an individual night. Hasek never did it. Cujo never did it. Patrick Roy never did it.

Put it this way. If you want to own a steak, you go to the butcher. If you want to own a goldfish, you go to the pet store. But if you want to own October, you’ll have to go to Manny Legace’s locker.

And for once, no one’s talking about who he’s sitting next to.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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