Veteran goalie Jeff Glass still hopeful for NHL chance at 31

Goaltender Jeff Glass, during the 2015 Spengler Cup hockey tournament in Davos, Switzerland. (Gian Ehrenzeller/CP)

TORONTO _ Veteran goaltender Jeff Glass practises with the Toronto Marlies not knowing when he will dress for a game, let alone get a start.

His NHL revival attempt doesn’t come with any guarantees.

Skating with the Maple Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate on a profressional tryout, Glass has no contract. He’s played just once this season, and that start only came after Leafs prospect Garret Sparks was suspended for violating team policy.

“I don’t look too far in the future, I really want this to work out but it’s out of my control,” said Glass, who rose to national fame after backstopping Canada to world junior gold in 2005. “Maybe something can shake loose and I can stick around here.”

Glass was coming off the ice over the summer in Edmonton when his agent informed him that Toronto had an offer.

There was no security, but it was an opportunity to show what he still had with an invite to training camp and a potential spot on the minor-league depth chart.

The 31-year-old Glass made it known that he wanted to return home after playing the past seven seasons overseas in the KHL. He needed another shot at the NHL before he was labelled too old, so Maple Leafs offer was enticing.

“It took about three seconds for me to reply because Toronto was at the top of the list,” said Glass.

The Calgary native had a successful junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice and was a top prospect after being named the Canadian Hockey League goaltender of the year in 2004-05, the same season he won gold with arguably Canada’s best junior squad of all time.

Glass shut the door alongside Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry _ just a few who went on successful NHL careers _ as Canada captured its first gold medal in eight years.

“Best experiences of my life. You could just look around the room and see they were top-tier hockey players, practices were fun,” said Glass. “A team you could never build again, we were so lucky, you could tell they were special.”

Glass, six foot three and 213 pounds, was drafted by the Ottawa Senators 89th overall in 2004. He spent a year in the ECHL and three seasons with their AHL team, but hit a roadblock and never made it out of Binghamton for a single NHL start.

In 2009, at just 24, NHL opportunity vanished.

So Glass went to the KHL hoping to gain some experience and return to North America while still in his prime. He never expected to play for six teams in seven seasons spanning Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. Glass ended up sticking around the KHL long enough to become second in all-time games played for a Canadian goalie with 218.

“I went on a two-year deal and thought I’d come back right away, never my intention to stay seven years,” said Glass. “I really did enjoy it over there.”

Glass, who won the 2015 Spengler Cup with Canada, is currently the third-string goalie on the Marlies behind Antoine Bibeau and Sparks. He isn’t on the NHL organization’s radar for a call-up if and would have to upgrade to an NHL deal with Toronto to make it happen. He’s been serving as a mentor, as well as an insurance policy, as he continues to familiarize himself with his natural surroundings.

Recently he caught a break, though, with Sparks’ suspension on Nov. 22, and on Saturday was given his first AHL start since April 2009. He finished with 22 saves in a 4-1 win over the Utica Comets.

“It was a tougher league when I left, a lot (bigger) guys. Seven years ago you had to keep your stick high,” said Glass. “Now guys are flying . . . There’s nothing better than enjoying the skill.”

“He showed he was competitive,” said Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe. “Would have liked to have gotten him a clean sheet.”

Sparks’ immediate future is uncertain and Bibeau has struggled since being named AHL goalie of the month for October, which works in Glass’s favour. He’s still got a long way to go to reach his ultimate goal, but the potential for more starts with the Marlies is a giant step forward to maybe one day playing a game in the NHL.

“I was given an opportunity to come here, and I feel that I still have something left in the tank,” said Glass. “I’m real excited to be here and work.”

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