The Journeyman Who Came Home: Jeff Glass, Who Toiled for Years in Russia, Tries to Revive NHL Dream
TORONTO — Jeff Glass was a prized goaltending prospect once upon a time — a star with the Kootenay Ice and the backstop for Canada’s greatest world-junior team. He schlepped through the Ottawa Senators’ minor-league system for four years, and plied his trade in Eastern Europe for several more.
Now, he’s a Toronto Marlie. Glass opened training camp with the AHL team Monday, just over a month after signing a tryout contract with their parent club, the Maple Leafs, and a week after the Leafs reassigned him to the minors.
Glass’ time at Leafs camp marked his reintroduction to North American hockey, and his first link to an NHL franchise since 2008-09, when he started 41 games for the Binghamton Senators.
The team’s top scorer that season was Ilya Zubov, who promptly returned to his native Russia. Their original starting goalie was Brian Elliott, who made the All-Star Game and was called up to the NHL for good.
Glass never reached that level, and he soon followed Zubov abroad. In coming to Toronto — by way of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan — he’s now trying to revive a long-dormant dream, pursuing at the age of 30 what he never managed to attain before.
“I’ve always wanted to come back. It was never meant to be a long-term thing over in Russia, but it kept being one more year, one more year,” Glass said.
“It felt like now was a great time for me to come back. As a goalie, being 30 years old, I think there’s still plenty of time in my career to show what I’ve got.”
Most Canadian fans likely associate Glass with what he did in 2005: tend goal for five games in Grand Forks, N.D., where Canada iced a world-junior lineup blessed with unprecedented talent. (Sidney Crosby, you might remember, finished fourth on the team in scoring.)
But though 19 of 21 his gold-medal teammates went on to the NHL, Glass never found an opening, with Elliott, Ray Emery, Martin Gerber and the inimitable Alex Auld monopolizing the crease in Ottawa.
Instead, the KHL beckoned. Glass started — and occasionally starred — for six teams in Europe’s foremost league, from Astana Barys in Kazakhstan, where he played from 2009-2012, to Moscow, where he joined CKSA, Russia’s famed “Red Army Team,” for six games in 2014.
“It’s a totally different style of game over there. The players are so skilled,” he said. “The passion over there is crazy, and I got to be a part of that on some pretty good teams.”
The Marlies fared well themselves last season, winning the AHL’s North Division and advancing to the Eastern Conference final. And starting Oct. 15, they may well embark on their follow-up campaign without Glass, thanks to a crowded series of creases at and below the NHL level.
The team opened camp with two other goalies — Ryan Massa and Jay Williams, each a product of the U.S. college system — and added a fourth when the Leafs cut Finnish netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo on Monday. The Marlies’ incumbent tandem, meanwhile, is still with the Leafs: 23-year old Garret Sparks, who played 17 NHL games last season, and 22-year-old Antoine Bibeau.
In that sense, Glass’ Marlies stint could mostly serve as an audition for the NHL’s 29 other franchises, and their respective minor-league outposts. It’s a matter of finding the right fit at the right time: a team in need of goaltending help, and an executive intrigued by his experience.
“Coming out of junior, I think everybody takes a lot of stuff for granted. You assume it’s just an easy path to the NHL and everything will just fall into place,” he said.
“It’s not that easy. My path’s been much different than most, but I’m proud of that. I accept that, and I realize I might have taken a different route than most, but now I’m very grateful to be on the ice every day. I don’t take anything for granted. I try to show I’m the hardest-working guy on the ice any time I step on, and let the cards fall where they may.”