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Glendening's first words on hockey

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Luke Glendening at Detroit Red Wings Development Camp

(Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – When one of a baby boy’s first words is “Zamboni,” his future will probably include plenty of hockey.

“One of my first words was Zamboni so that kind of tells you what my family was like,” Grand Rapids Griffin Luke Glendening said with a laugh. “I started skating on roller skates when I was 18 months old and after that I was addicted.”

Glendening didn’t limit himself to hockey, though. He also played football for the East Grand Rapids Pioneers. The fullback thought about giving up his football career to play hockey full-time, but after helping his team win a State Championship, he’s glad he stuck it out.

“It was cool,” Glendening said of winning the 2006 Division-III MHSAA State Championship. “It was something that you obviously work for and after for three years of not winning and coming up short, it was a nice pinnacle to my career. Looking back I have to say that I truly did enjoy football and it’s one of my great memories that’s for sure.”

Glendening had a few football walk-on offers from Division-III colleges, but hockey was his passion. The only problem was, no one wanted to give him a chance. He decided to enroll at Hotchkiss, a coeducational 9-12 boarding school, to keep his options open for one more year.

“I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket because if that basket broke, then I was left with nothing,” Glendening said of his decision to enroll at Hotchkiss. “I knew I wanted to play some sport in college so I went there so I could still play hockey, football and baseball just to see where the cards fell.”

Through hard work and a little bit of luck, the cards fell in his favor. University of Michigan Associate Head Coach Billy Powers came to Hotchkiss to watch one of Glendening’s teammates. By the time Powers left, Glendening had a preferred walk-on offer to become a Wolverine.

It wasn’t a guarantee, but it was better than nothing.

“That was the only place that gave me a chance to play hockey,” Glendening explained. “I never actually wanted to go to U of M. Too many people from my school went there and I kind of wanted to branch out and do something different. But after being away for a year and then given that opportunity, I couldn’t turn it down.”

Glendening had one season to prove he deserved a permanent spot on the Wolverines’ roster.

“I just had to be mentally tough,” Glendening said. “You know people aren’t going to just give you the things that you want but I got there and everyone was great to me and it wasn’t really as bad as it sounds. It was a great experience that’s for sure.”

After his first season wearing maize and blue, Glendening was called into his coach’s office. He breathed a sigh of relief when he found out he had a permanent place on the team. The Grand Rapids native made sure his coaches never regretted that decision.

Glendening finished his college career with 70 points, earning a career-high tying 21 points in 41 games during his senior year. But points weren’t his top priority. The two-time captain was more concerned with being a strong leader for his teammates. He became one of only eight players in Michigan history to wear the “C” for multiple seasons, a great honor and responsibility for the former walk-on.

“It was a huge honor and very humbling,” Glendening said of being a two-time captain. “I obviously learned a lot from that in terms of you have to walk the walk you can’t just talk the talk so I think it was a great experience and it was definitely a huge honor.”

With a political science degree in his back pocket, Glendening graduated from the University of Michigan with many options. But he still had the same dream of playing in the NHL.

“It’s every hockey player’s dream I think, but you never know what will happen,” Glendening said. “I don’t know where my talent will take me or won’t take me, but I’m just going to put in the work and see what happens.”

Glendening is used to putting in the work. He graduated high school without a single offer to play hockey and had to work his way onto the Wolverines’ roster. After going undrafted in June, he decided to use that experience as one more opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.

And Glendening has done just that. He signed a one-year contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins, becoming the first player from the Greater Grand Rapids area to ever sign with Detroit’s AHL affiliate. Glendening’s goal is to become a player the Griffins can count on every day, and he’s working on those skills at the 2012 Red Wings development camp.

“I went to San Jose’s last year and I had a great experience,” Glendening said. “When I came here I didn’t really know anyone and I met some great guys. It’s been great to learn from the coaches but also some of the players.”

Glendening’s AHL contract may just be for the 2012-13 season, but he’s used to those one-year tryouts. And he’s not about to give up now.

“You just have to follow your heart and follow your dreams,” Glendening said. “It’s such a cliché but you have to be your biggest fan. People are always going to pull you down and say you can’t do this, you can’t do that. We’ve talked about it here, get people in your corner that believe in you and believe in yourself and you’ll have a shot.”

Few people gave Glendening a shot to pursue his passion. But the former walk-on turned two-time captain decided to pursue his dream when he muttered “Zamboni.”

It was one of Glendening’s first words, and when it comes to his performance on the ice, he’ll be sure to have the last.

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