PITTSFIELD -- Like many netminders, St. Joseph goalie Andrew Leitch didn't start off between the pipes.

"I was a left winger starting out in Squirts," he said.

Then, said Leitch, there was a practice during his second year at that level, and the team's regular goaltender didn't show up. His coach asked for volunteers, and Leitch agreed to don the mask.

"I don't know, I guess it was a day when I wanted to try something new," he said.

Leitch alternated between being a winger and being a goaltender for a year or so, before committing to the goalie position permanently.

Andrew Leitch has been a big part of St. Joe’s run to the Western Mass. semifinals
Andrew Leitch has been a big part of St. Joe's run to the Western Mass. semifinals (New England Newspapers file)

His St. Joseph teammates are certainly glad he did. Leitch is one of the premier goaltenders in Western Mass. He was the county MVP as a sophomore.

Last week, Leitch stopped 52 shots in the No. 6 Crusaders' 5-3 quarterfinal victory over No. 3 Chicopee. After the second intermission of that contest, which was tied 3-3 at the time, Leitch told his St. Joseph teammates to score one more goal, and that favored Chicopee would get no more.

Leitch backed up his statement and St. Joseph got a pair of goals to win the contest.

Leitch has perhaps the most important ingredient a successful goalie can possess: He is confident without being cocky, self-assured without being overbearing.

"I love it," he said of his position. "I love stopping the tough shots. I love being in the net."

Leitch is aware of the common lament of goalies from the Squirt League to the NHL: You are the last line of defense. If a defenseman is out of position, or fails to cover an opponent swooping in, nobody notices. What they do notice is the red light going on, and the goaltender disgustedly sweeping the puck out of the back of the net.

That is fine with Leitch.

"I guess I've just gotten used to it," he said. "I've learned to keep my composure and not get frustrated."

Leitch has been a four-year starter for the Crusaders. The jump from club hockey to the varsity brand, he said, was challenging.

"There were bigger guys out there when I was a freshman," he said. "But the biggest change was that different teams use different offensive and defensive formations. I hadn't seen that before."

The Crusaders have advanced to the Western Mass. semifinals for the first time in Leitch's high school career. At the beginning of the season, he said, the team goals were to make the tournament and win a game, which the Crusaders have now done.

"We've met those goals," he said. "But we have another one now, and that's to win out."