By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — It’s been a couple years since goaltender Scott Darling’s noted journey to the NHL was capped by his spot on the Chicago Blackhawks’ roster.
With Darling now the Carolina Hurricanes starter, it appears the Blackhawks were due for another success story involving a netminder on his way from the low-level minors to the National Hockey League.
Unlike Darling, who began his climb to the NHL with stints in the Southern Professional Hockey League, Jeff Glass has been playing just below the big league for almost all of his 14-year career, except for a 39-game stint with the Charlotte Checkers when the club was in the ECHL.
From there, Glass made three more attempts at cracking the Ottawa Senators’ roster. Each resulted in an assignment to the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators without a single call-up.
Glass’ became a free agent at end of the 2008-09 season, a slight disappointment for Canada’s starting goaltender in the 2005 World Junior Championships. Glass not only helped Canada win gold, he all but secured his future as an NHLer. He’d already been drafted, and a strong showing in the tournament would only show Ottawa he’d eventually be the guy between their pipes. But it was not to be.
Glass found himself on the other side of the world the next year, in Kazakhstan wearing a light blue and white sweater as a member of the Brays Hockey Club of the Kontinental Hockey League. And while it’s not the NHL, it comes close by international standards—and it was where Glass would spend seven seasons.
Flash forward to when the Blackhawks were grabbing at straws to find a capable goaltender to help salvage the Rockford IceHogs 2016-17 season that ended with 25-39-9-3 record, the firing of Ted Dent and no returning goaltenders except newly signed Glass.
Goaltending situations in the American Hockey League usually comprise a veteran like Glass and one or two younger guys just breaking into the pros. This season, the Blackhawks opted to replace Darling with Anton Forsberg instead of looking to Rockford for Corey Crawford’s backup. That left Glass and seven-year man J.F. Berube to share the duties for the IceHogs. Berube started the year as Chicago’s No. 3 goaltender, however, and was called up earlier in the year when Crawford went down briefly.
Flash forward again to December and a knee injury that put Berube on the shelf, brought Collin Delia up from Indy and promoted Jeff Glass to Rockford’s primary backstop. It would also mean that injuries up top could finally get him into an NHL game.
Crawford’s upper body injury following a Dec. 23 loss to New Jersey gave Glass that chance. And he took advantage of it Dec. 29 by recording his first start and victory. That’s not bad for a 32-year-old rookie just starting accept that he could retire as a guy who almost made pro hockey’s biggest stage.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of,” Glass said after the Blackhawks’ 4-3 overtime win in Edmonton. “I didn’t think it was actually going to happen, so it’s exciting.”
Glass suffered an overtime loss in Calgary Dec. 31 and won against the New York Rangers on Jan. 3. His first start at the United Center was spoiled on a late goal that gave the Vegas Golden Knights the 5-4 victory. But with Corey Crawford still on injured reserve, Glass says he knows his role is to help keep the Blackhawks in contention. And with the middle of January approaching, that means Chicago is already looking ahead for a way to make the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Everybody talks about how special this team is, and being on the inside now, I see it,” Glass said. “And I am just trying to do my part. And if everybody does their part, this team wins hockey games.”
It also helps that Glass knows how to compartmentalize the excitement surrounding his story. At the end of the day, it’s about hockey, he says. And he has been a pro long enough to develop the confidence that’s often a hurdle for a lot of NHL rookies.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “I’d like to think that’s the edge I have over some of the younger guys. I am a little different kind of rookie, and I am OK with that.”
While GM Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville kept their opening day roster largely intact for the first couple months, the Blackhawks have made some recent moves to get out of the Western Conference Central Division basement. IceHogs forwards Vinnie Hinostroza, David Kampf and Tomas Jurco have been recalled along with defenseman Erik Gustafsson. The moves sent Tanner Kero, Cody Franson and John Hayden to Rockford. R.