GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Like Rudy Ruettiger the Notre Dame walk-on who harbored dreams of playing on the Irish football team, Luke Glendening once entertained illusions of skating for Michigan hockey legend Red Berenson.
Glendening, however, did a lot more than take a whirl around the ice in the closing moments of a game. Given his chance, the East Grand Rapids native went from walk-on to two-time captain – becoming just the eighth player to captain the Wolverines in more than one season.
“It was a neat opportunity and I was thrilled, humbled, there are a million words that you can use for it,” Glendening said. “You just think of the legacy of the people that came before you. You think that Red was a captain at Michigan, and it was pretty cool to be a part of that. But I think for me, I had to keep doing the things that I was doing, because it was that work ethic that got me there.
“People didn’t want to hear me talk. They didn’t want to hear me lecture. They just wanted to see me go hard and do all of the little things right.”
Glendening hopes that same recipe for success will now transfer to his hometown Griffins, where he signed a one-year contract to play for the Red Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate this season. In 165 career college games, Glendening produced 31 goals and 39 assists, a plus-57 rating and 122 penalty minutes, while earning several Wolverines and conference honors.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Glendening, who skated for the first time at Van Andel Arena this week. “It’s been fun to be back in Grand Rapids and be in the area. Obviously, I don’t know what’s going to happen this week with a lot of guys vying for a few spots, but it’s a great opportunity to be back in town and I’ve very excited about it.”
For someone who is so committed to doing what he sets out to do, making the Griffins’ permanent roster is just another challenge in life, Glendening said. And if his experience at Michigan taught him anything, it was to persevere.
“I came in with less skill than everyone. I was a little behind in my hockey-talent,” he said. “I had to go in and work hard every day and try to gain the coaches’ trust.
“It taught me a lot about myself, you know, because there were a lot of people who said ‘You’ll never make it.’ It also taught me how much my community in Grand Rapids was behind me. I would get letters from people, phone calls, texts, just people telling me, ‘You can do it. You can do it.’ That reassured me on days when I thought there’s just no way. It was pretty cool to be there and I was just so blessed to have that opportunity.”
How long Glendening’s hockey career lasts, is anyone’s guess. But he has a chance, even though the 30 AHL teams will benefit from the NHL lockout, as minor-league teams look to fill rosters with available players on two-way contracts. It could cast some doubt for rookie players like Glendening, who is competing with 14 other forwards in Griffins’ camp this week.
Throughout the AHL, players like New Jersey center Adam Henrique (Albany); Edmonton forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle (Oklahoma City); Washington goalie Braden Holtby (Hershey); and Philadelphia centers Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier (Adirondack) will toil with their minor-league clubs.
Wings defenseman Brendan Smith and winger Gustav Nyquist will play in Grand Rapids during the lockout, which will definitely give the Griffins’ roster a boast.
But for Glendening, who was a three-sport star in high school and graduated from UM with a degree in political science, staying upbeat and positive won’t be difficult.
“I just don’t think that I’ve reached my full potential yet,” he said. “So I want to keep working every day to get better and work on the little things. I know there is room for improvement with me, and all I can ask for is a chance and that’s what I have here, but I have to make the most of it.”
As luck would have it, Glendening’s first game with the Griffins could come this weekend in a place that he’s quite familiar with. The Griffins will play two exhibition games against the Lake Erie Monsters in Toledo, Ohio on Saturday and at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor on Sunday.
New Griffins coach Jeff Blashill isn’t sure what his lineups will be this weekend, but returning home would be extra special, Glendening said.
“I’ll be happy to play in either game, but obviously if I played at Yost it would be pretty cool,” he said. “But you know, this is a business and I understand that and that’s the way it goes. They have to see people, they have to get people ready to play and I’m hoping that I’m one of those guys. But if not, I have to pay my dues and that’s what it is.”
The Griffins begin their 12th season as the Wings’ AHL affiliate when they host the Milwaukee Admirals at Van Andel Arena next Friday.
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