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By: Nate Haeni
Photo by Todd Reicher
03/31/2016 12:59 PM -

Rockford, Ill. - The Rockford IceHogs are proud to announce that goaltender Michael Leighton has been named the team’s winner of the IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year award for his outstanding contributions to the Rockford community during the 2015-16 season.

In addition to his leadership role and as the club’s most valuable player from a season ago, Leighton has shown his commitment to giving back to the Rockford community through several initiatives throughout the 2015-16 campaign.

The highlight of Leighton’s commitment to the Rockford community is through a program he created near the end of the 2014-15 campaign and reestablished again this season, called Leighton’s Minions. The program was formed to honor two individuals with cerebral palsy, his godson Zach Darbyson, and in remembrance of friend and longtime fan, Mark Nantais.

The program, which is aimed to help those in need, whether it’s due to illness or just a rough patch in life, treats applicable parties to an IceHogs game in VIP fashion. Leighton and his wife, Jennifer, welcomed over 150 guests throughout the 2015-16 season. Each of the Leighton’s Minions groups were given a free ticket to take in an IceHogs game from a personal suite with food included, courtesy of Leighton. Following the game, Leighton brought each group down to the locker room for pictures and autographs.

While Leighton’s Minions was the most recognizable way the IceHogs goaltender contributed to the Rockford community, he also spearheaded other initiatives throughout the season. For both Brovember Night and Autism Awareness Night, Leighton improvised new ways to raise even more funds for the main beneficiary in addition to the team’s contributions through ticket fundraisers and auctions.

In November, Leighton purchased special IceHogs pucks that he had autographed by his IceHogs teammates, as well as a few Chicago Blackhawks stars. With the help of his wife, the wrapped “mystery pucks” were sold during the game with all proceeds (over $5,000) going to Healing Pathways Cancer Research Center in Rockford.

After the overwhelming amount of success from the first round of mystery pucks, Leighton put the plan in action again for Autism Awareness Night, having the team sign special autism-themed IceHogs pucks. Leighton also got his teammates even more involved to help generate a bigger donation, this time benefitting The Autism Program by Easter Seals. Leighton convinced 26 of his fellow players and coaches to create baskets full of their favorite items, including gift cards, hats, clothing, and autographed gear, that were then auctioned off in the arena. In all, the silent auction and mystery pucks helped raise over $20,000 to support the cause. 

In November around Thanksgiving, Leighton rounded up a few teammates to visit the Rockford Rescue Mission to help serve food to the less fortunate, which is something he has done the past two seasons in Rockford.

Leighton is now one of 30 finalists for the AHL’s 2015-16 Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, honoring the overall IOA/American Specialty AHL Man of the Year. The league award is named after the former Hershey Bears forward and AHL All-Star who died in 1997 following a 16-month battle with leukemia. The winner of the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award will be announced by the American Hockey League at a later date.

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