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.