EDMONTON, Alberta — There were times — when he was trekking through the Siberian snow to get to a hockey practice, when he was half a world away from family and friends, when the team plane had to stop for gas in the middle of a 14-hour flight across eight or nine time zones — that Jeff Glass wondered just what the heck he was doing with his life.
“There are always times when you wonder what you’re doing, or why you’re over there,” Glass said of his seven-year exile in Russia’s KHL. “But I believed in myself and I believe in the process. My path’s been a little longer than most, and I’m OK with that.”
Yeah, just a little longer. Glass has been on the brink of the NHL for 13 years. He backstopped Canada to the 2005 World Junior championship, rooming with a 20-year-old Brent Seabrook and going 5-0 with a 1.40 goals-against average. He was supposed to be the next big thing in goal.
Then he spent four years in the AHL, including a stint in the ECHL. Then seven seasons in the KHL. Then a last-ditch effort to pursue his NHL dream, which found him back in the AHL the past two-plus seasons. Then Corey Crawford got hurt. Then Anton Forsberg gave up five goals in Vancouver.
And then there was Jeff Glass, 32 years old, making his NHL debut for the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night. In his native Alberta, no less. In front of his parents, his wife, and his 2-month-old daughter.
A lifetime of work, an overnight success.
Glass was spectacular in his long-delayed debut, a 4-3 overtime victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Two Oilers goals in the final 2:19 nearly spoiled the fairy-tale ending, but Patrick Kane’s beautiful individual effort 50 seconds into the overtime snapped the Hawks’ losing streak at three.
Glass finished with 42 saves. Reality was better than anything he ever imagined — and he had plenty of time to imagine on those endless cross-Eurasia flights.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of,” he said afterward. “I never thought it would actually come true.”
Glass is the feel-good, fun story the Hawks have desperately needed in this slog of a season. That was evident in the giddy, high-pitched hooting and cheering emanating from the visitors dressing room at Rogers Place after the game.
“We were all jacked up after the game,” Kane said. “Probably happier than a normal win in the regular season, just because he was in net.”
Aside from a couple of goal-saving plays by Duncan Keith and Connor Murphy, the Hawks did Glass little favors. He had to make 18 saves in the first period alone, the lone blemish a Jesse Puljujarvi power-play rebound, matched later in the period by a Ryan Hartman goal. He made 12 more stops in the second period, and another 12 in the third. He stoned Leon Draisaitl on a breakaway, and denied Milan Lucic on a 2-on-1. He stayed square and poised in the face of an Oilers onslaught.
A pair of power-play goals by Alex DeBrincat and former Oilers defenseman Jordan Oesterle staked Glass to a 3-1 third-period lead. Then things got, in Kane’s words, “scary,” as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored with 2:19 left, and Draisaitl popped in a rebound in the final minute — a third-chance goal after two terrific Glass saves.
“A little more exciting than I needed it to be at the end there,” Glass said. “But an unbelievable goal by Kaner in overtime. It feels pretty good.”
Indeed, Kane made sure the script stayed intact, following his own rebound after a tremendous move for the winner.
Up next? A Sunday night game in Calgary — Glass’ home town.
“Amazing, amazing performance by him,” Kane said. “You’ve got to feel so happy for him. And just seeing his smile there after we won, and how happy he was — that can make anyone’s night.”
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