Tenacity pays off for former Walleye rookieWritten by Vincent D. Scebbi | | email@example.com
Luke Glendening’s road to pro hockey has been anything but certain.
“I always wanted to do it. It’s every hockey player’s dream to play professional hockey. I didn’t know if it was ever going to become a reality,” said Glendening, who until recently played for the Toledo Walleye.
The defensive forward, known for his leadership and defensive style of play, is taking the next step after being called up to the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, on Dec. 17.
“I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity and I’m just trying to go make the best of it and put my best foot forward,” Glendening said. “I’m not sure how long I’m going to be here, but I’m just trying to find any way I can to stay.”
Glendening said his time with the Walleye allowed him to build his confidence and adjust to pro hockey.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about how you play, if you play hard and you’re playing fast, and I think Toledo allowed me to gain confidence to do that,” he said.
The confidence boost helped Glendening when he made his debut with Grand Rapids on Dec. 19, scoring his first AHL goal on his first shot.
Just 2:49 into the opening period, Griffins forward Triston Grant shot the puck in front of the net and Glendening charged the net and sent the rebound past the netminder.
“[The puck] just rebounded there and I was fortunate enough to put it in,” he said.
Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci said his Toledo squad will be fine replacing Glendening and the other three players who were called up to the AHL on Dec. 17.
Toledo received Bowling Green alum Brandon Svendsen and forwards Adam Hobson and Doug Clarkson were cleared off the injured reserve list.
Glendening is off to a hot start in his rookie season. In 27 games with the Walleye, he has scored 14 goals, ranking him second among ECHL rookies as of Dec. 17.
He scored 31 goals in 165 games during his college days at the University of Michigan.
Vitucci said Glendening has the right combination of skills, which led to his hot start.
“He competes and competes. If he’s not scoring, he’s causing turnovers,” Vitucci said. “He’s physical, he’s smart, he works hard and he’s quick. All of that is a great combination to have.”
Glendening’s success at finding the net has been somewhat surprising to him and those familiar with his game.
“His role has been a real strong defensive player at Michigan, and not that he couldn’t score, but his strengths were his work ethic, his physicality, his defensive responsibility and his leadership skills,” said Red Berenson, who coached Glendening from 2008-12 at Michigan.
Berenson said Glendening’s knowledge of the sport allowed him to shine as a defensive forward, especially on the penalty kill, where he excelled at shot blocking.
“He was sort of the conscience of the line. He gave the line some physicality and he gave them some defensive responsibility. You want a player like that on every line,” Berenson said. “But we used him in more of a defensive role and he was the defensive player of the year in our whole conference. He earned that respect not only from our team, but the rest of the league.”
Glendening said that during his freshman year at Michigan, he was in and out of the lineup and only skated in 35 games, the fewest in any of his four seasons as a Wolverine.
Berenson said he was not sure whether Glendening would be a regular player.
Glendening said this caused some discouragements and doubts about his future, but he still worked hard. Berenson said Glendening was able to impress the coaching staff and earn a regular spot his sophomore year.
“He convinced us with the way he played and the way he practiced that he was going to work his way in the lineup and that’s what he did,” Berenson said. “Nothing was given to Luke; he’s earned everything he’s got.”
During his four years at Michigan, Glendening was a two-time captain of the Wolverine squad and helped lead the school to a national championship appearance during the 2010-11 season, which the team lost in overtime against the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.
“It’s not like someone taught Luke how to be a leader; he had all the ingredients of being a good leader,” Berenson said.
“He didn’t have to change to be a captain. We made him a captain because of his work ethic and his priorities and his attitude toward his teammates and his competitive level.”
Glendening said he still was unsure about his future even after he graduated this year with a degree in political science. He was undrafted, but signed to a one-year contract by Grand Rapids on June 19.
“I just kept working hard and I still didn’t know if it was going to work. I still didn’t know if it was going to work after my senior year,” he said. “But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
He made his pro debut in April when he signed an amateur tryout contract with the Providence Bruins.
Although he only played three games with the Bruins, Glendening said he learned a lot about himself and got a small taste of pro hockey during those couple of weeks in Rhode Island.
“There’s always a bigger bear in the woods and I think I’ve always known that, but there’s obviously great hockey players and just because of what you did, it’s not going to take you anywhere,” Glendening said. “People don’t care what you did yesterday; they care about what you did today.”
Glendening said being a leader on his college squad helped prepare him for the pro life because it taught him how to carry himself off the ice.
“You realize that it’s more than what you do on the ice, it’s how you carry yourself off,” he said. “Here, you have a lot of time on your hands. Here, it’s all about being a good pro and you have people ask, ‘What does that mean to be a good pro?’ It’s what you do in the off time. How you take care of your body. And I think it’s what you have to think about.”
Glendening, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., said playing in front of his hometown was special and he had a lot of support at his first game with the Griffins.
“Every corner I looked into of the rink, it seemed like I saw someone that I knew, which made the moment a little extra special because there has been so many people from Grand Rapids that have stood beside me and stood behind me when everyone else said I wasn’t going to make it,” he said. “It was fun to be here and play in front of them.”
Glendening said his parents told him he didn’t have to be the best player on the ice – just the hardest worker.
“That’s something I’ve carried with me throughout life,” he said. “There’s always going to be people that are better than you at anything, you just got to keep working. If you can outwork them, see what happens.”