To Get to the Blackhawks’ Net, Jeff Glass Took the Long Way
For Jeff Glass, there have been so many stops during his existence as a hockey vagabond, so many different jerseys that he has worn, so many teams he has tended goal for from Binghamton to Belarus and plenty of other outposts in between, and so many moments when it would have been easy for him to quit.
There was the 38-game stretch in Siberia — where, to the best of Glass’s recollection, snow fell for 45 straight days. He played for the Kontinental Hockey League’s Sibir Novosibirsk then, and he found himself so far in the middle of nowhere that, as he put it, “all there was was hockey.”
Now, after 13 years of wandering, Glass realizes that each step played a meaningful role in his finding his way to his N.H.L. debut last month as a 32-year-old rookie with the Chicago Blackhawks.
With his 42-save effort in Chicago’s 4-3 overtime victory against the Oilers in Edmonton on Dec. 29, Glass — at 32 years, 40 days old — became the second-oldest goaltender in the N.H.L.’s expansion era to notch a victory in his debut, behind Rob Zepp (34 years, 106 days), who won in net for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2014, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I never saw it playing out like this, being 32 years old and getting my chance,” Glass said. “But that’s my path and I’m proud of what I’ve had to do to get here.”
Since making his inaugural appearance just 175 miles from his hometown, Calgary, Glass has registered a 3-2-1 record and a .910 save percentage while splitting time with his fellow backup Anton Forsberg.
As so often happens in sports, Glass owes his good fortune to another player’s misfortune. The Blackhawks’ top goalie, the veteran All-Star Corey Crawford, remains sidelined and on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. The Blackhawks have declined to comment on Crawford’s injury or a timetable for him to return. Several published reports this week indicated that Crawford could miss the remainder of the season, which could keep Glass in a N.H.L. uniform for the foreseeable future.
Since being called up, Glass has maintained a day-to-day, businesslike approach and has avoided becoming awe-struck in a room full of superstars. The Blackhawks (22-17-6) have struggled in ways that predate their three Stanley Cup championships since 2010. They are currently not in playoff position.
But Glass’s feel-good story has resonated around the N.H.L. and even more so within the confines of the Blackhawks’ dressing room, where stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have become big-time Glass supporters.
“It’s been pretty cool to have a front-row seat for it,” Kane said.
Glass was playing in Canada’s Western Hockey League when the Ottawa Senators drafted him in 2004 with the 89th pick. From there he went to Charlotte of the East Coast Hockey League, then moved to Binghamton of the American Hockey League. In 2009 he signed with Barys Astana in Kazakhstan and headed to the Kontinental Hockey League.
A world away from the N.H.L. rinks he aspired to play on, Glass discovered a passionate fan base and the opportunity to grow and develop in a place he could not even imagine living with his wife, Allie. Then his agent mentioned the possibility of continuing his career there. Glass’s K.H.L. journey took him to Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, Lada Togliatti, Novosibirsk Sibir and Dinamo Minsk.
News of Glass’s call-up spread quickly. The congratulatory text messages and phone calls poured in from friends and family members, some of whom, Glass said, had not been in touch for years. As he prepared to join the Blackhawks, the freshly minted N.H.L. rookie could not help but think back on all of the steps that had brought him to this point.
“Most guys might have said, ‘Hey, I want to get a real job and get on with Plan B,’” Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’s a testament to how competitive he is and that dream of playing in the N.H.L. has got to be part of it.”
Glass refuses to let the speed of the N.H.L. intimidate him. Same goes for the pressure of playing a role in moving the Blackhawks closer to a playoff berth. He cannot afford to predict how long he will remain while Crawford’s next steps are up in the air.
Taking each day as it comes has always been part of Glass’s routine, and so he isn’t about to change a formula that has served him so well.“At the end of the day,” Glass said, “it’s just a matter of going out and stopping hockey pucks.”