By Kevin Oklobzija - Rochester D&C
BUFFALO - It has been close to 15 years since David Leggio played his first, and only, game in the Buffalo Sabres' home arena.
He was in PeeWee hockey at the time and the Amherst Knights were playing against a Rochester Youth Hockey team that featured Greece native Derek Whitmore.
"We tied 3-3; the whole team went to Chef's (Restaurant)," he said as though that game was played just yesterday. "Any time when you're a kid and you can play where your heroes are playing, it's special."
He may have made more lasting memories on Tuesday night - as well as some key impressions.
Leggio stopped 36 shots, making big saves at critical moments of a one-goal game, and helped the Rochester Americans defeat the Hamilton Bulldogs 3-1 at the First Niagara Center.
A crowd of 10,936, hockey-starved because of the NHL lockout, watched the Buffalo Sabres' development team play where the real Sabres should be playing.
They surely liked what they saw. Center Cody Hodgson scored one goal and assisted on another and defensemen Joe Finley and T.J. Brennan scored goals.
Leggio, meanwhile, played by far his best game of the young season. That pleased a section or two in the arena.
A native of the Buffalo suburb of Williamsville, Leggio was directly responsible for at least 60 tickets, maybe more. This was his first professional game at the FNC, so it was big. It was even bigger after Saturday, when he allowed seven goals in an 8-7 victory at Hershey.
"Coming home, playing in front of my hometown friends, in front of my family, it was a little emotional for me," he said. "I marked this on my calendar a while ago and yesterday I started thinking about it.
"I was thinking about the whole day before, the whole night before, the whole day of the game. It just felt like a really huge game."
He played like it was, too, making high-quality saves to preserve 1-0 and 2-1 leads on at least five occasions, and at times he surely reflected on how great it would be to play for the Sabres on the same ice.
"I've thought that many times, working out in the summer and in camp," he said. "I'm from Buffalo, I love Buffalo, I'll live here for the rest of my life. It's any kid's dream to play for his hometown team; I'm no different.
"Tonight was maybe a small taste of that but it would be a little more special if it was in the blue and gold."
Said Brennan: "Obviously being the hometown kid, it's huge for him."
The rebound from Saturday was what impressed coach Ron Rolston.
"I thought 'Ledge' had a really, really strong bounce-back game," Rolston said.
Finley gave the Amerks a 1-0 lead 11:45 into the first period when his shot from the left point hit a skate in the high slot and deflected past traffic and then past goalie Peter Delmas.
The score didn't change until 12:09 of the second period, when Michael Bournival snapped a shot from the hash marks past Leggio to tie it 1-1.
Patrick Holland made the centering pass from the left wing and Marcus Foligno didn't have strong enough coverage on Bournival to prevent a shot.
But the Amerks' line that gave up the goal gained atonement on the next shift, with Hodgson scoring at 12:53.
Hodgson's shot from the left circle hit Evan Rankin in the skates and caromed back toward the left circle, and Hodgson was free to fire it past Delmas on the short side for his first goal of the season.
Brennan scored the clinching goal at 16:09 of the third period, overpowering Delmas with a bullet one-timer on a power play.
"T.J.'s got a bomb of a shot; it's almost unfair when you give him that much time," Hodgson said.