CALGARY, Alberta — Jeff Glass has changed his phone number about as often as he’s changed addresses during his nomadic hockey career. But when he left Rogers Place in Edmonton on Friday night, climbed aboard the team bus, plopped into a seat and finally took out his phone, he saw 90 text messages and “quite a few hundred notifications on Twitter.”
You spend 13 years in pro hockey, no matter if it’s in Binghamton or Siberia, you’re going to cross a lot of people’s paths. And seemingly all of them tracked down Glass’ phone number Friday night.
“Hockey’s a small world,” Glass said. “So your number gets passed around pretty quickly. That was kind of cool to hear from so many people.”
Glass’ storybook start — he was the second-oldest goaltender in the last 50 years to earn a victory in his NHL debut — was the talk of the hockey world. And it could get even better on Sunday, when Glass starts in his hometown of Calgary. He spent countless nights as a kid at the Saddledome, cheering on the Flames. On Sunday, he’ll have upwards of 30 friends and family members in attendance to see him play against those same Flames.
“Been coming here my whole life,” Glass said after Saturday’s practice. “This was always my favorite rink.”
Strictly from an on-ice perspective, Glass’ 42-save performance against the Oilers was massively important for the Blackhawks, who had lost three straight and easily could have lost a fourth had Glass not made so many highlight-reel stops, particularly in a shooting gallery-style first period.
But off the ice, Glass has given the Hawks some much needed pep in their step. The season has been a grind, with far too many ups and downs, slumps and droughts. After hitting their nadir mentally with Corey Crawford going on injured reserve indefinitely and getting trounced in Vancouver, the Edmonton game was the emotional high point of the season.
“It was huge,” center Tommy Wingels said. “Sometimes you need something like that to spark your team. That can be that one game that kind of turns things around. I really feel that way. Guys were really excited after that win. … Let’s use that as a rallying point and get a winning streak going here.”
Glass won’t be hurting for motivation. There’s always something special about playing in your hometown. Patrick Kane always talks about being at his best when the Hawks are in Buffalo. Jonathan Toews admits to getting a little more amped up in Winnipeg. Brandon Saad said he always feels “added excitement” when the Hawks are in Pittsburgh.
And Wingels, a Wilmette native, can still vividly remember the first time he played at the United Center. Like Glass, it was at the very beginning of his NHL career, his fourth-ever appearance. His Sharks won 5-3. Wingels played all of 3 minutes, 38 seconds, but it was still unforgettable.
“Every game’s special because you’ve got friends and family watching on TV, but [now] all the people that supported you growing up, your coaches, most importantly your family, can see you in person,” Wingels said. “It’s an indescribable feeling.”
That sums up Glass’ first game pretty well, too. But beyond all the talk of fairy tales and Glass slippers, there’s still a hockey game to be played in Calgary on Sunday. A meaningful one for the Hawks, who are still scratching and clawing to get back into the playoff picture. And Glass — who has an opportunity to wrest the backup job away from Anton Forsberg the way another Cinderella story, Scott Darling, took it away from Antti Raanta three years ago — wants to be a big part of that.
“The key will be the same as [in Edmonton] —manage my emotions, make the saves, and just do what I’ve been doing,” Glass said. “I really want to play at this level, and I’ve worked hard to get here. Now it’s a matter of proving it’s not a fluke.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus