GLENS FALLS, N.Y. - Factory smoke billows in the distance. Hardly any traffic lights direct cars - just a tiny circle in the middle of town with roads leading in several directions.
This is the where former Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michael Leighton plays, hoping one of those roads will lead back to the NHL.
Leighton, 30, has spent the entire season with the Adirondack Phantoms, the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate. It's not uncommon to have older players in the minor-league AHL, a step below the NHL.
But it's somewhat rare to have a player such as Leighton - an instrumental part of the Flyers' 2010 Stanley Cup Finals run - stuck in small-town purgatory.
Glens Falls' population of 14,700 is 4,800 less than the average number of people that packed the Wells Fargo Center to watch him play with the Flyers two years ago.
"I can hang my head and pack it in and struggle for a job next year," Leighton said last week. "Or I can work hard and be a good guy in the locker room and help the young guys develop. Hopefully, someone will see that aspect and I will have a job next year."
Leighton is likely stuck in upstate New York for the rest of the season.
But he gets a reprieve this weekend in Atlantic City when he starts in goal for the Eastern Conference in the AHL All-Star Classic, which is 7 p.m. Monday at Boardwalk Hall. It's Leighton's third AHL all-star appearance.
Even if one of the Flyers' current goalies, Ilya Bryzgalov or Sergei Bobrovsky, gets injured, the Flyers are restricted by the salary cap.
Leighton will make $1.6 million this year and because he's on a one-way contract, he would also have to pass through waivers to get back to the NHL. If he is claimed, Philadelphia is responsible for half that money, which is tacked on to their salary cap.
"I think last year was a little harder to deal with," Leighton said. "I was signed to be the No. 1 goalie. But I got hurt, had surgery and got sent down after (the surgery). Last year, was a little more tough to watch. This year it's a different team. I knew the situation when they signed (Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal). It wasn't as much of a shock."
This is Leighton's second season in Glens Falls. But a year ago he was frustrated from injuries and circumstance. His family - wife Jennifer and daughters Ella, 5, Annalise, 2 - were in Canada. He was alone.
The Flyers called him up at the end of last season. He made two playoff starts and in the second, gave up three goals in eight shots against Buffalo.
"I would go a month and a half without seeing (his family)," Leighton said. "Then I would see them one or two days (and then they'd go back to Canada)."
Leighton becomes a free agent at the end of the season. He hopes to get an NHL job, but he'll be 31 and has played inconsistently during his time in the NHL. In 104 regular-season games at the top level, he has a 2.95 goals against average and .902 save percentage. For comparison, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has a career 2.28 goals against and .920 save percentage in 442 games in the NHL.
He's had a solid season with Adirondack, although he struggled in January. Before Saturday's game against Albany, Leighton is 14-16 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.84 goals-against average. He's lost his last four starts and has a 4.28 goals against average in eight games this month.
Overall, his season stats rank him 31st in save percentage and 34th in the league in GAA. However, he's fifth in the league in total saves with 874.
Last season with the Phantoms, he was 14-12 with a .926 save percentage and a 2.22 goals against average.
However, what's not on the stat sheet is Leighton's attitude. Former Flyers teammate and current Phantoms assistant coach Riley Cote sees the same guy that was just two games away from winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
Leighton helps in the locker room, talking to younger players. He's never acted as though he didn't want to be with Adirondack. His family has moved to Glens Falls.
"I don't think he's changed at all," Cote said. "Any human being would be disappointed, but he didn't show that emotion. He came down here with a great attitude. I think it's normal to be disappointed, but it's how you act that is key. He's done a great job."
Leighton taps players as they walk off the ice - an acknowledgment in hockey as a job well done. He talks to players after games, never blowing anyone off.
Leighton will even wait in the old concrete Glens Falls Civic Center to sign autographs for giveaways - the same hallway with the cardio equipment and the ice-skate sharpener.
It's a long way from Philadelphia. The 33-year-old Civic Center, complete with an indoor running track around the top of the building, only seats 4,806 for hockey. The Phantoms are averaging 3,468 fans in 22 games in the building, which is third from the bottom of the entire league.
"I wasn't sure when someone gets sent down on a one-way contract how they will react and maybe they don't have to put out as much effort," Phantoms coach Joe Patterson said. "But he has and he cares a lot, too. He's been first-class on the ice and off the ice for us."
Leighton did play in Philadelphia this year, but probably not in the way he hoped.
Adirondack played the Hershey Bears in the AHL Outdoor Classic at Citizens Bank Park on Jan. 6 before a sold-out crowd and AHL-record 45,653 fans, just steps away from where Leighton was cheered by 19,500 on a nightly basis.
He wants to get to that level again, and some think Leighton has played well enough this season to get back.
"I think someone will," Phantoms coach Joe Patterson said. "You could even look at this year. I think someone could go after him now. There is still a lot of season left."
Leighton doesn't hold any grudges against the Flyers. He understands it was just poor timing that left him in upstate New York.
The nights that he is off and Philadelphia plays, the Leighton family watches the Flyers games.
"I still have friends on the team. I want them to do well," Leighton said. "I want them to win. I just want to keep up with them."
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