ANN ARBOR, Mich. – With the thermometer reading 13 degrees and the wind chill hovering at zero, Red Wings center Luke Glendening took his place in the starting lineup in front of that the league believes was a record-breaking crowd of 105,491 hockey fans at Michigan Stadium in the 2014 Winter Classic.
It was a moment the 24-year-old never thought he’d experience just two short days ago.
“I was planning on watching this one on TV, excited to see how it turned out,” Glendening said on Tuesday. “Now that I have the opportunity to be a part of it, I’m excited.”
After spending two weeks with the Red Wings, Glendening was reassigned to the team’s minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids on Sunday, and led the Griffins with two goals in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Marlies Monday night. But on his way back to his hometown after the defeat, Glendening received a call from Griffins coach Jeff Blashill that he was to report to Michigan Stadium the following morning.
He was going to play in the Winter Classic.
At Detroit’s first official outdoor practice at Comerica Park two weeks ago, Glendening wouldn’t even let himself think about the possibility of suiting up for the big game at the Big House.
“I just take it day-by-day here,” Glendening said after the outdoor practice. “I don't know how long my time here will last, but you just got to make the most of (the situation) when you're here, and it's an opportunity to make a name for myself.”
Glendening did exactly that, as when the need for an additional center arose, he was the first one the Red Wings looked to just 24 hours before hosting the Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium.
The road to Ann Arbor Tuesday morning was a welcoming sight for Glendening, who was a preferred walk-on with the Wolverines during the 2008-09 season. He finished his four-year career with 31 goals and 39 assists in 165 games, and was one of only eight Michigan players to be named captain of the team in multiple seasons.
“He ended up being our captain his junior and senior years,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said after skating in Game 1 of the Alumni Showdown. “He never led the team in scoring, but he was our leader on and off the ice. Now he’s showing that he can play pro hockey and now he’s in the NHL. He’s a good example for young kids that aren’t getting all the attention and aren’t draftable and aren’t this and aren’t that, but they really want a chance.”
The Winter Classic also marked the second outdoor game Glendening has participated in at the Big House, as he played for Michigan in the 2010 Big Chill against Michigan State. The center is far from an amateur when it comes to outdoor competition, as the New Year’s Day game is his fifth career outdoor game. Glendening has also played against Wisconsin at Camp Randall in 2010, against Ohio State at Cleveland's Progressive Field in 2012 and against the Toronto Marlies Monday as part of the Hockeytown Winter Festival’s AHL matchup.
“It’ll be his fifth outdoor game,” Berenson said. “He played a game in Wisconsin, he played in the Big Chill, he played in Cleveland, he played last night and he’s going to play tomorrow, good for him. And Luke is a tremendous kid and he’s one of those kids that they bring him back up and down I think he’s played 16 games for the Wings but he’s a role player, he knows his role, he’s excited to be there so I’m excited for him.”
While Glendening was excited to play in the Winter Classic, he understood the challenges of playing in an outdoor arena, particularly during poor weather conditions.
“You got to keep the game simple,” Glendening said. “When you try to get fancy -- I’m not a very fancy hockey player – the game can get a little sloppy, you got to play north-south.”
“You just got to battle the elements, both teams have to play in it, so it’s not one team’s advantage.”
Although he didn’t record any points in Detroit’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs in the sixth NHL Winter Classic, Glendening notched one hit and won 10 of 22 faceoff attempts.
His hard work on the snow-covered ice didn’t go unnoticed.
“Most kids you call up what they do is they play good for a little bit and then they fall off,” said coach Mike Babcock. “Glendening has been really special for us. We didn’t realize he could skate so good. He’s so hard and so mentally tough. He’s going to be a good NHL player. He’s probably not going to score but he’s going to be a good one.”
Glendening was not available for comment following the Winter Classic.