After suffering a string of injuries to their goaltending position, the Chicago Blackhawks recently called up a man named Jeff Glass to make his NHL debut. The team hasn't done bad at all with him in the net, especially for a guy with no NHL experience.

It's a pretty unremarkable story – guy gets hurt, second guy comes in to play in his stead. The interesting thing, though, is that Glass is about to turn 33. All sports are a young person's game, and you don't see many 33 year old rookies. The more I thought about this while watching him play, the more it struck me as one of those "OK this is what people find compelling about sports" moments.

He has more than 15 years and 600 games of experience playing professional hockey, all at various minor or not-quite-NHL levels. He has, in the old saying, Modeled a Few Uniforms in his day. Presumably waiting his turn to get a crack at the NHL he has played for, among other remote islands of the hockey world, the Kootenay Ice, Rockford Icehogs, Binghamton Senators, and six different teams in the Russian KHL including Astana Barys and Lada Tolyatti. Those are cities that, even by Russian standards, are out of the way.

Nobody feels a ton of sympathy for a guy who made not-bad money (minor league hockey at the AHL and KHL level pays high five to low six figures) to play a game for a living. But what a strange, frustrating journey that must have been. Imagine how many nights he must have sat in motel rooms in Chelyabinsk, Russia feeling like he was on another planet and asking, "What the fuck am I doing?"

Anyone who has ever had a goal must be able to imagine how many times he delivered his "I quit" speech into bathroom mirrors or how many times he saw some random dude promoted to the NHL and thought, why him and not me? How many times did he have to talk himself into giving it one more try, one more month, one more game, one more season? When a minor league prospect gets past the age of about 27, it is universally understood that if he has not yet Made It he is never going to Make It. Did Glass convince himself that he would beat those odds? Or did he simply give up on his NHL dream and content himself with being a bush leaguer for as long as someone would pay him?

Either scenario must have made it feel bizarre to finally get that call a week ago, "Here's a plane ticket to Edmonton, you're starting tonight for the Blackhawks." He won that game, by the way. I don't suppose any of that night registered on him, and it must have felt like it was over in a blur – when you wait fifteen years for something to happen, it has to feel like you're underwater and in shock when it actually happens.

It's not exactly an important story, but in its own way a universal one. Achieving goals is about a lot more than our own talent; there are a hundred other "Just get me anyone who knows which end of the goalie stick to hold" guys that Chicago could have signed and played. In the past, Glass got passed over for a lot of them. This time, a lot of them got passed over in favor of him. That's life. The element of randomness tends to drive me crazy. I wonder how he convinced himself it was worth it to keep going, and how it must feel when it paid off.

25 thoughts on “NPF: THE BALLAD OF JEFF GLASS”

  • Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me…ending up together?

    Mary: Not good.

    Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?

    Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.

    Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance. Yeah!

    Also too, the voices in Donald Trump's head.

  • The element of randomness tends to drive me crazy. I wonder how he convinced himself it was worth it to keep going, and how it must feel when it paid off.

    Well how did you feel when you finally got published in Rolling Stone and other magazines?

  • I wonder if the fact that it was "his turn" factored into it at all? In baseball, sometimes the career organizational filler guy gets called up for his cup of coffee in September (and then get released). Chicago already had Glass under contract, and he was putting up solid numbers in the A, so I could see someone say "What the hell, this guy's earned a shot."

  • There was a Tampa pitcher named Jim Morris that had a similar career path abou whom Disney made a movie called The Rookie. Well technically he left the minors after a series of arm injuries, but he made a bet with the HS team he was coaching that he would try again if they won the District championship. They did and Tampa let him try out to fulfill his promise. He threw 12 consecutive 98+ MPH fastballs and signed a minor league contract. He was called up at the end of the year at age 35, and then made the majors the next spring training. He lasted a month before his arm went bad and he was released

  • Over the years I have often had to lower my expectations. If I live long enough and continue my ratcheting back, year over year, I may yet reach my goal!

    Seriously. I am pretty sure that I will never do, say, paint, write, carve or otherwise craft something of unique beauty or utility. Occasionally that bothers me. More often I realize that, as Bill Murray so furiously ranted in, "Meatballs"–it just doesn't matter.

    I get up with decent intentions most mornings and life gets in the way of my carrying out most of them. It just doesn't matter.

    I'm never going to be able to play EITHER of my guitars very well. It just doesn't matter.

    I'm never going to have another dinner party like the ones I used to have. It just doesn't matter.

    Nothing matters very much when I live in a world where people can't see past the end of their own privilege and narrow self-interest.

    I don't need much beyond the basics and I live in a world where people who do not even know how much they already have–want mine.

    At least I still have the ability to piss off some of the comfortable dolts who helped to foist this turd of a PotUS off on the rest of us. Hey! THAT matters!

  • c u n d gulag says:

    What a great, heartwarming story.

    There's only one problem with it:
    Glass' story is like lighter-fluid that's been poured onto the dying embers* of aging High School ex-jock's Walter Mitty dreams.

    And this does not bode well for younger people, who will soon tire of Glass' name because it will become the Holy Grail for certain past-their-prime relatives/acquaintances.

    You know who I'm talking about – he (could even be a she) is the guy at the end of the bar, at your office, or he could even be your Uncle at a holiday gathering, who, after a few pops, tuns every conversation to the subject of sports, and some recent great play he seen.

    And then, for the millionth time, tell everyone within hearing distance of his greatest play(s) as a youngster. After which, he inevitably will say the following:
    "You saw that play the other night, right? Well, hell, I could do the same thing, if I'd only had the chance/right coach/more money/more support from my parents; or if I hadn't torn (or broke) my (whatever body part )!"

    And then, after a few more pops, tell you he could even do it BETTER!
    Hell, if Glass could do this, WHY COULDN'T HE?

    And so, as much as you are bone-fucking-tired of hearing the same stories, prepare yourself:
    Because the next 1,000 times some drunken Uncle corners you with his same story, he will use Glass' name as an example of how he, too, could have (fill-in the latest great play: __________________________________), you, too, will use Glass' name.

    *Please do not try doing this.

  • What is it about hockey goalies that leads to random dudes getting pressed into service? Every once in a while you hear about a team that's short on bodies to put in goal so they have an equipment manager or a local dentist or something available as a backup. It's not like you ever see an NFL team announce that their punter pulled a hamstring so they're going to give the ball boy a jersey. But NHL teams do that with some regularity at goalie. Is it just that the fitness demands of tending goal are fairly low?

  • I have spent some time in a motel in Edmonton and would venture it not unlike a motel in Chelyabinsk. I was asking myself 'just what am I doing here?"

    [helicopter logging]

  • @Jtr, NHL goalies are incredible athletes. No, the issue is that NHL teams are limited to 23-man rosters (18 skaters, 2 goalies, and 3 reserves). Teams use the three reserve spots for skaters. They are also required to have a backup goalie on the bench for every game. So what happens is if one of the two goalies has a last minute injury or illness and there isn't time to get a minor-league call-up to the game, they have to use an emergency back-up.

  • @Burple:

    So THAT'S how Jean Claude van Damme was able to have a perfect record in goal* during his stint in "Sudden Death"!

    * I found this to be a quick, fun read on the making of the movie. It appears Mr. van Damme (or his handlers) might have some assholishness issues.

  • @ Ungrateful Negro:

    Thanks for the link, I read a bit of it and bookmarked it for later.

    Luck and connections will get you a better life than luck alone–imo.

  • just like our ed! man I always forget just how much I like you until you start talking hockey. Sure there are a lot of great thinkers I read these days but none of those guys also get hockey. fuck the hawks tho ;p LGD!

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