CHICAGO — Jeff Glass can’t get caught up thinking about how he reached the Blackhawks. His path — a meandering one that took him to the AHL, ECHL, multiple stops in the KHL, including one in a Siberian outpost, back to the AHL and now to Chicago — is an unusual one, to say the least.
Considering his route, it would be human nature if the 32-year-old journeyman goalie got starstruck around Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, but Glass knows that won’t help him succeed and take advantage of this chance he’s waited a career for.
“I try to just stay in the moment here, take every game one game at a time, one shot at a time. All the cliches,” Glass said. “I’m trying not to look ahead at things too far and look back at what I’ve done. It’s all about staying in the moment right now and trying to get this team points.”
The Blackhawks need that. Badly.
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On Friday, coach Joel Quenneville said he still expected Corey Crawford to come back from injury before the end of the season. But Crawford’s return is by no means definite, and Chicago could be forced to rally for a playoff spot with a duo of Glass and rookie Anton Forsberg instead of their Vezina Trophy candidate.
That didn’t go well Saturday, as Forsberg struggled with rebound control and allowed five goals before getting pulled in a 7-3 loss to the Islanders. Glass gave up two more to cap a miserable night for the Blackhawks, who entered play Monday last in the Central and five points out of a playoff spot.
“We look (at the standings) every day. We put ourselves in a terrible spot going into the break and then coming out of it we know that we have to have a great run here,” Quenneville said Saturday. “We’ve got to move up significantly in our play, in our consistency and our predictability.”
Nothing has been predictable for Glass during his career.
The long road
If Glass had quit hockey and decided to do something else, it would have been understandable.
“There’s always doubts for sure. My road is definitely not the norm,” Glass said. “Nobody said I was going to do it this way, but I believed in myself. I kept working. I have a good support group. Good family and friends that kept pushing me and got me where I am.”
A Calgary native, Glass was a third-round selection by Ottawa in the 2004 draft. He spent four years in the Senators’ system, playing mostly in the AHL but also appearing in 39 ECHL games during the 2005-06 season. Glass then jumped to the KHL, first with Astana Barys before kicking around the league with Moscow Spartak, CSKA Moscow, Tolyatti Lada, Minsk Dynamo, and yes, 38 games with Novosibirsk Sibir during the 2012-13 season.
Finally, in 2016-17, Glass made his way back to North America, joining the AHL Toronto Marlies for two games before getting released and signing with the Blackhawks’ affiliate in Rockford. He played in 10 games before Chicago signed him in February to a two-year, two-way contract.
Though the deal was thought to be a way for the Blackhawks to remain roster compliant for the upcoming expansion draft, Glass took advantage of his opportunity in Rockford, going 8-10 with a .914 save percentage and 2.63 goals-against average. He also established himself as an on-ice leader … and talker.
“He’s an older guy, and I think there was a lot of respect for that guy. When you don’t do your job on the ice he stands up and screams for you. You can really hear him a couple of times on the ice screaming at you if you don’t do the job on the ice,” said Chicago defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who spent last season in Rockford with Glass. “I think that’s the most important thing for a goalie. If you’re not awake or if he’s bad or something like that, he talks a lot in the locker room, too. Just a great guy, on and off the ice.”
Entering this season, Glass was supposed to be fourth on Chicago’s goalie depth chart. Crawford was the undisputed No. 1, Forsberg would be No. 2 after coming over from Columbus in the Brandon Saad-Artemi Panarin trade, free-agent signing J-F Berube would be third and Glass fourth.
But Berube has battled injuries in Rockford, meaning Glass was the goalie to call up when Crawford was placed on injured reserve Dec. 27. And unlike a stint in the NHL last season when he didn’t play, Glass didn’t have to wait long for his debut, a 42-save win over Edmonton on Dec. 29 that was a culmination of his winding journey to an NHL net.
“I’ve seen it with other players at various positions and different levels of hockey just continue to work and work and eventually get rewarded,” Patrick Sharp said. “You can talk about hockey and skills and talent and all that as much as you want, but I think his perseverance, his dedication is the reason why he’s here at 32.”
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Quenneville, not a noted sentimentalist, even called Glass “a good story.”
“We look at our situation here, every time he’s been up with our team, he gives us everything you hope for,” Quenneville said. “He’s a great professional, he’s good with the teammates, he works hard in practice every single day. I look at Vegas and see what they did. I’ve seen goalies put in some tough spots over the years.
"What a great opportunity, and you can rally around it, as well.”
Savor, but work
Glass knows he has work to do with the Blackhawks. As good a story as he is, the Blackhawks would dump him in a heartbeat if they felt they could get somebody better. It’s his job to stop pucks and keep Chicago competitive until Crawford returns.
But he’s also human, and he’s earned the right to appreciate his surroundings. Instead of yelling at minor-league players, his voice is heard by some of the NHL’s biggest names. He’s played in the United Center, Madison Square Garden and his hometown Saddledome in Calgary. And he sees how the best players in the world perform and go about their business.
“You appreciate the little things — how hard these guys work, how fast the game is, how much fun it is to play at this level,” Glass said. “I really have an appreciation for it.”
The Blackhawks seem to appreciate having Glass around, too.
His numbers in Chicago (3-2-1, .905 save percentage, 3.35 GAA) aren’t the best, but considering the team he’s played behind, they could be worse. His talkative personality has made the trip to Chicago, and his spirit has not changed since becoming an NHL netminder.
“The first thing you notice is his personality, his enthusiasm to be here. How excited he is to be with this group,” Sharp said. “His journey is well-documented, and to be 32 years old and on the run that he’s on right now is exciting and it’s contagious. We feed off that energy and we’re happy to have him around.”
Glass has been a positive story in an otherwise difficult campaign for Chicago. A 50-win team a year ago, the Blackhawks will be lucky to avoid missing the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Saturday’s game showed the challenge ahead of them.
“Time’s ticking here and we know that the urgency has to be there,” Keith said. “It’s got to come in-game. We can sit here and talk all we want and say things, but it’s got to come down to us doing it in the game and then, I’m responsible (for) that too.”
Glass is, too. He and Forsberg will have to form a duo the Blackhawks can win with. Because, even though he’s a great story, Glass is in Chicago to make saves and win games.
“That’s all it is. It’s just stopping pucks at the end of the day,” Glass said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I like to think I know what I’m doing, so just keep doing what I’m doing.”