When Brett Leonhardt applied for a job with the Washington Capitals, he never thought he'd serve as a backup goaltender in an NHL game.

The former Neumann College goaltender was thisclose to appearing in an NHL game recently. Leonhardt, whose day job is a Web site producer for the Caps, suited up as the backup goalie for the start of Friday's game against Colorado.

The Caps learned the morning of the game that backup goalie Jose Theodore had a hip-flexor injury. With their two minor league teams in Texas and Florida, the Caps couldn't get a goalie to Washington until shortly after the game began.

The 6-7 Leonhardt, a 2007 Neumann graduate, practiced with the Caps during the morning skate. Last season, he also was a target for shots by Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and the rest of the Caps during about a half-dozen practices. He still wears his Neumann goalie mask with a large "N" on it.

Referring to his half-period wearing No. 80 and sitting near the Caps' bench, Leonhardt said on Tuesday, "It's the best feeling I've ever had. It was a dream come true. Very surreal."

When he was shown on the Verizon Center's replay screen accompanied by the caption "1st NHL game," the crowd cheered.

He was relieved on the bench by Simeon Varlamov midway through the first period. Varlamov was recalled from Hershey, Washington's American Hockey League farm team, which was in San Antonio.

Leonhardt took his emergency duty seriously, as did the Caps players, who have nicknamed him "Stretch." With Washington leading the NHL's Southeast Division, every point is important.

"They told me to be ready," he said. "I prepared like I did in college."

The first time he practiced with the Caps was an eye-opener. "The speed and puck movement is a lot quicker than in college," he said. "Now, I feel I get better each time."

Leonhardt, from Kitchener, Ontario, played two seasons at Neumann, which was nationally ranked in Division III. After transferring to Neumann from SUNY-Oswego, he earned a degree in communications and media arts.

Leonhardt met his girlfriend, Logan Kapinus, at Neumann. She's a graduate of Sun Valley High in Aston, where Neumann is based. Following graduation 2 years ago from Rider University, where she played tennis, she took a job with the Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund in D.C.

After joining Kapinus in Washington, Leonhardt called the Caps and was hired as a Web site producer. He has thought about playing pro hockey and Kapinus has encouraged him, because she says he might regret it if he doesn't try.

"But the money's not that great," he said. "Ten years down the line I think I'll be better off with the career I have."

The Flyers host the Caps on Saturday afternoon. Leonhardt and Kapinus will be watching the game on television. And he'll be keeping his goaltender's equipment ready in case he's needed by the Caps in the future. *

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