Blackhawks Glass talks about path, keys to winning NHL debut at 32
On the eve of winning his NHL debut at the age of 32 on Friday, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Jeff Glass confidently told InGoal Magazine that he has never felt better about his game.
As for the reason why, look no further than the change in how NHL organizations approach the position compared to when Glass made his professional debut in the Ottawa Senators system way back in 2005-06. Glass was fresh off winning a gold medal with Canada at the World Junior Championships and being named the Western Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year in 2004-05, but was left largely to his own devices while transitioning to life as a pro goalie.
Now, more than 13 years after the Senators picked him in the third round, 89th overall, in the 2004 NHL Draft, and after seven seasons playing for six different teams in Russia, Glass is taking advantage of the increase in goaltending coaches in the American Hockey League. He points to the daily support from Chicago’s full-time development goalie coach Peter Aubry in Rockford for being ready for the NHL.
“Being in Russia so long, maybe the communication barriers were a little tougher with some of the goalie coaches over there, so to come back and last year jump from a few teams and to have a guy this year to work with me on my game every day, I feel like my game is as good as it has ever been,” Glass, who returned from Russia last season and played two games with the Toronto Marlies and 20 in Rockford, told InGoal on Thursday. “And now I feel ready to play at the next level.”
Glass has played 432 games over 13 pro seasons, so it’s interesting – and perhaps a good lesson for young goalies everywhere – to listen to him talk about the importance of daily work with Aubry.
“For me it’s the day-to-day maintenance,” said Glass, who made 42 saves to beat the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. “I’ve always had a style I like to play but you have to pound that style with repetition day after day, from the way I hold my gloves to the way I stack up on the posts. I was able to do repetitions correctly on a day-to-day basis so if I had a bad day or had a day where it didn’t look right, he would talk to me about it and my game got better. I had a better foundation to work with, and then I could tweak my game each game rather than have to correct the whole thing once a month when somebody showed up.”
That wasn’t the case for Glass – or many young goalies – back in his first pro season. It wasn’t until the past three or four years that goaltending coaches became the norm in the AHL, and even now not all are full time like Aubry. But 12 years ago, goalies were more likely to get sporadic visits from the NHL goaltending coach in the AHL, and lucky to see one at all in the ECHL.
“It’s on the goalie,” said Glass, who spent most of his first season in the ECHL. “I had the practice time and all that but now I feel like it’s a different beast when you have a guy there every single day, going over video every morning, staying on the ice before and after practice. It’s as hard as I want to work, and it’s a really nice feeling to have that and now I’m more confident in my game than I have ever been.”
It’s a good lesson on the importance coaching in the minors, especially for young goalies.
“I think lots of people forget, and I have been able to talk to lots of guys about this, but it’s a big jump from junior to pro or from college to pro and you are trying to accomplish that yourself as it is, so to have someone help you take that step, you can kind of worry about your game and they can worry about everything else,” Glass said. “I feel like there was a lot of variables in my game when I was coming out of junior. I felt like I was a really good goalie but the pro game is totally different. I had to learn how to play the pro game, and the speed and how smart guys are, and I think even the work ethic in practice, I didn’t really have it when I came to pro. You learn to develop that and you learn you can’t take anything for granted, so that was my big life lesson, and then combine that with a goalie coach that can work with you on an everyday basis and now the whole thing is starting to come together for me.”
Glass was highly touted coming out of junior, and coming off a World Junior Championship on a loaded Canadian team with Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber, just to name a few.
Looking back, however, Glass doesn’t think his style translated well to pro.
“At that time, there was a lot of blocking goalies, just get into position and let the puck hit you, whereas the game has evolved now into a pretty athletic position and I think if you are not careful or you fall into that blocking position now you are going to get burned,” Glass said. “I was always an athletic guy but I don’t think I was ever taught to play the game the way I play it now.”
Glass still stresses the importance of a strong technical foundation, and the detail work with Aubry to maintain it, but believes you need another layer to succeed as a pro.
“I love watching Corey (Crawford) here and the way he catches pucks off of his block,” he said. “He builds a wall and then he reacts off that, so I think that’s how the game has evolved. You need to have the wall, you need to be square, you need to cover your angles and be in position and react from that. Just being in position isn’t good enough anymore and I think guys can hit those corners so it’s on the goalies now to not just say ‘hey that one beat me,’ you have to be able to move into that shot and make those saves.”
Glass also stressed the importance of being able to read an increasingly dynamic game, and talked about seeing himself in young goalies at summer camps who move around the crease as well as their NHL heroes, but might still have a lot of learn about playing the game.
“You need to read the game,” Glass said. “You can learn it a little bit but I think it is experience, at least for me personally it has been. I could move as well, if not better, than most of the other guys during my first year pro. It was a matter of getting myself into position and then reading what was going to happen because most guys don’t just shoot the puck. They want to make it look like they are shooting and pass, or make it look like they are passing and shoot, so you have to learn how to see that, and you pick up on trends and that’s what separates you from the next guy.”
Seven seasons in the east-west, pass-first KHL certainly tested and honed those skills
“It’s pass, pass, pass and then pass again,” Glass, who went over planning to play one season in Russia, said with a laugh. “They will be staring you in the face looking for a pass.”
Glass doesn’t have to worry about staring down and waiting out KHL snipers any more. He’s finally back home, and with the help of his AHL goalie coach, feeling good enough to play in the NHL.