DETROIT – Luke Glendening is familiar with the road less traveled. From college to the professional league, the Grand Rapids, Mich., native has fought an uphill battle for playing time at every level. It may not have been easy, but it never went unnoticed.
“All you have to do is walk through his journey,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He walked on at Michigan, he was their captain, signed an American League/East Coast contract here. He didn’t get to play in the American League. When they went to the East Coast League they didn’t let him play there either and he had to fight his way through, and ended up being an important player last year that won the Calder Cup. Now he’s on our team.”
The 24-year-old Glendening made his NHL debut last Saturday, but will continue to face adversity as he tries to break into the Red Wings’ line. Glendening’s time in Detroit will most likely be short, as Darren Helm is expected to rejoin the Red Wings early next week.
“I kind of knew that coming in here, that they’re just waiting on him to get back,” Glendening said. “I just have to play my best and I can’t control what’s going on on the outside. Obviously Helm is a great player and he’s going to be a great addition to this team when he comes back. Everyone is excited for him to come back, myself included.”
Due to a series of injuries, Helm has only played in one regular-season game over the last 19 months. After beginning a rehabilitation stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Helm could be in the Red Wings’ lineup for their home game against the New York Rangers on Oct. 26.
But knowing his time is limited only fuels Glendening’s desire to learn and make an impact on his team, especially as he prepared for his first NHL road trip.
“I’m just glad to be on my first road trip,” he said. “I think my mentality stays the same, try to watch and learn and be a sponge. Try to learn as much as I can when I’m here and hopefully moving forward I can find a way to stay.”
If the past repeats itself, there’s a good chance Glendening will wear the Winged Wheel again. There’s no doubt that the center is talented, as he led all AHL rookies last spring in playoff points (16) during the Griffins’ march to the Calder Cup championship. Glendening’s effectiveness and style of play on the ice caught Babcock’s eye, and his journey to Detroit couldn’t have mattered less.
“He’s smart. He’s competitive. He plays heavy. He was a high school running back in football. He’s used to getting hit and doesn’t mind it,” Babcock said. “Over time guys will find out that he doesn’t mind running over you either. The way I look at it is, I don’t care of they’re drafted in the first round, the ninth round, not drafted, it makes no difference. If they can play they’re going to play.”
Glendening appreciates the high praise from the Wings’ coach, but understands that he has to take advantage of the situations Babcock has put him in to improve and be successful. It’s a mindset that the center has carried with him for years, as he knows all too well how fast changes can be made in professional sports.
“I think I’ve just always approached it the same, you just have to show up every day and work your hardest,” Glendening said. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of neat opportunities. Don’t take any day for granted, just enjoy every day and every day I’m here, every opportunity that I have, I’m just so thankful for and I just have to keep working hard.”
If you take Babcock’s advice and walk through Glendening’s journey, there’s no doubt that the 24-year-old will continue to work hard and wear his team’s colors proudly. For the time being, those colors are red and white.