by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I get around. I hear stories. I have heard of a one-legged skier and a midget baseball player. I have heard of a boxing promoter with electric hair. I have heard of The Chicken. I have never heard of a hockey player whose career almost ended because his agent died.

His agent died?

“What happened?” I ask.

“Normie was pretty old,” the player says.

“Normie,” I repeat.

I am hearing some strange things. I am hearing stories too weird to be lies. I am sitting with Jim Leavins, age 25, and he is telling me how he came to be a Detroit Red Wings defenseman.

I am nodding my head. But I’m not sure why.

“After Normie passed away there was nobody to contact the teams about me,” he says, “so I just went home. To Dinsmore.”

“Dinsmore?” I ask.

“Saskatchewan,” he says.

“Saskatchewan,” I repeat.

I have seen a few places. I have seen Texas. I have seen Yugoslavia. I have seen New Jersey from every exit on its turnpike. I have seen Green Bay. I have never seen Dinsmore, Saskatchewan. No. I would have remembered that one.

“A big town?” I ask.

“Only 450 people,” he says. “We have a cafe. The Dinsmore Cafe. And a hotel. The Dinsmore Hotel. And a credit union.”

“The Dinsmore Credit Union?” I say.

“That’s right,” he says. “I applied for a job there last September.”

“A job,” I repeat. Got the call at YMCA

We are talking about Jim Leavins, aren’t we? The hockey player? The guy who set up a beautiful goal by Reed Larson Tuesday night against Edmonton? The guy Red Wings coach Brad Park calls “the best puck-handling defenseman on the team” ? That’s he, right? That Jim Leavins?

“What kind of job?” I ask.

“Loan officer,” he says.

“Loan officer,” I repeat.

I have heard of a pitcher who plays the saxophone. I have heard of a football player selling flowers. I have heard of a heavyweight champion who is now a priest. I have never heard of a hockey player as a loan officer. I am hearing it now.

“Did you take the job?” I ask.

“No, that’s when I got the phone call,” he says.

“The phone call,” I repeat.

The phone call was from Bill Dineen, who coaches the Adirondack Red Wings in the American Hockey League. They needed a defenseman. Dineen remembered Leavins from the latter’s college days at the University of Denver.

Leavins — who still lacked an agent outside the spiritual world — signed for a 15-game tryout.

“I wasn’t doing anything anyhow,” he says.

“Right,” I say.

He stayed with Adirondack a few months. He got $225 a game. The players traveled by bus. Played in Hershey and Glens Falls. He was happy. Then the Red Wings called. They wanted to bring him up. It was a big moment. A thrill of a lifetime.

“Where were you when they called?” I ask.

“In the YMCA,” he says.

“The YMCA,” I repeat. Found a healthy agent

I have heard of schoolyards. I have heard of street corners. I have heard of Hollywood and Vine, where they discover the actors. The YMCA?

“We were playing basketball,” he says.

“Basketball,” I repeat.

He took the call in the gym. Four hours later he was on a plane to Detroit. The next night he started for the Red Wings against New Jersey.

That was a month ago. He has been here since.

He has played well. He has found an agent. A younger agent. In good health. The Red Wings are negotiating a new contract for him.

“How are the negotiations going?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I hope OK.”

“You hope OK,” I repeat.

I have heard of quarterbacks in panty hose. I have heard of Dinka tribesmen playing basketball. I have heard of a boxer named Willie the Worm. I have heard of Refrigerators and Spuds. I have heard of The Iron Sheik.

I have never heard of a would-be loan officer from Dinsmore, Saskatchewan, who went from his living room to the best puck-handling defenseman on the Detroit Red Wings in less than six months. That is, until now.

“This is quite a story,” I say.

“Thank you,” he says.

“A real Horatio Alger tale,” I say.

“Never heard of him,” he says. CUTLINE

Jim Leavins

olumn; Jim Leavins; DRedWings; biography; hockey


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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