Brett Leonhardt leaves the Caps
Ordinarily, I might not devote 600 words to the departure of a D.C. sports team's Web producer. When that Web producer doubles as a podcast host, convention moderator, basketball foe to assistant coaches, pre-game DJ and backup practice goalie, though, I'll make an exception.
"I don't think there's anybody in sports that has as diverse a list of responsibilities," said Nate Ewell, the Caps' VP of communications, when I asked him about the departure of Brett Leonhardt.
Now, I'm kind of friendly with Leonhardt, since he runs in media circles when he's not on the ice, and I've written about him before. When he first was drafted to help out in practice. When fans started wearing his jersey to games. When he showed up with D.C.'s most unique goalie mask. When he began to DJ the team's pre-game warmups.
And as Leonhardt did more and more things for the franchise, his public persona sort of grew. Monday -- when he announced he'd be leaving the Caps for a video editing job with the NHL -- Leonhardt became a D.C. trending topic on Twitter. And when he walks through crowds of Caps fans, people know who he is.
"I think he's probably more recognized than some of the guys on our team," Ewell told me. "It's kind of surreal. It's not Ovi levels...but he also sits in a cube down the hall."
Being a sort of mid-level D.C. sports celebrity wasn't quite what Leonhardt had in mind when he was hired by the Caps in the fall of 2007. He didn't even know he would have an on-air presence, instead assuming he was "just going to be a cubicle guy." But after that December night in 2008 when Semyon Varlamov couldn't make it to D.C. in time to backup Brent Johnson, Leonhardt's aura sort of changed, and he began incorporating more and more of his personality into the team's Web site.
"Everything that's happened to me has been a complete shock," he told me Tuesday afternoon. "It's been very surreal dealing with the attention and the recognition. When a kid's 18 and gets drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, he knows what's in store for him. but when you get hired as the web producer, you're not prepared for that part of it. It was very cool, something I never took for granted, and something I'm gonna miss, to be honest."
Still, as the seasons came and went, he realized he didn't want to be sticking his camera in players' faces for the rest of his career, that he wanted to use his video skills in a way that better took advantage of his hockey knowledge. He's now 28, older than more than half the Caps' roster, and ready to make the jump. A few months ago, the NHL offered him that chance, when the league asked Caps GM George McPhee for permission to interview Leonhardt for an operations job.
In his new job, which starts mid-month, he will prepare daily highlight reels for NHL executives on controversial or noteworthy plays, produce videos for meetings of general managers and the league's board of directors, and support the hockey operations staff in all its video needs. This means he'll have to stop rooting for the Caps, although Leonhardt said he'd "love to come back to D.C. for a parade" this spring.
Still, he said leaving the organization was "the hardest decision I've ever had to make," described McPhee as a lifelong mentor, and said working for the Caps was "truly a dream job." As for the 15 or 20 on-ice practices he logged, the one-day contract and the local fame, Leonhardt has fairly modest expectations.
"Maybe not this year or next year, but maybe 10 years from now I would hope people would go 'Wow, remember when the Caps had to throw their web guy on the bench for a game -- what was his name?' " he joked. "I would hope that 10 years from now, that would still be a pretty cool story."
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