Tanner Glass hasn’t hit his ceiling yet
Former Canuck is more than an NHL survivor; he’s flourishing thanks to a constant grind of self-improvement
Tanner Glass isn’t that far removed from the wide-eyed kid who had his faced pressed to the Plexiglas in the old Winnipeg Arena.
The former Vancouver Canucks grinder was just 16 years old, and witnessing his first NHL game between the Jets and Bruins — after the long trek from tiny Craven, Sask. — meant soaking up the entire experience.
“I snuck into the pre-game skate and got a stick from Mariusz Czerkawski, and I’ll never forget it,” recalled the 30-year-old Pittsburgh Penguin.
“I see kids in the warm-up banging on the glass, and I try to acknowledge that whenever I can. I toss pucks to them because it’s such a big thing for them and a small thing for us. It’s kind of how I live my life. Work hard. Play hard. We’re in the NHL — what’s not to be happy about?”
Affectionately dubbed The Mayor of the fourth line when he had 15 different linemates during the Canucks’ run to the 2011 Stanley Cup final, Glass has never lost his connection to Vancouver.
He purchased a Yaletown townhouse during the NHL lockout and spends the offseason here with his wife, Emily, and fourth-month-old son Sawyer. He’s renting the condo out to Tom Sestito and joked that the big winger has probably broken the bed and that he’s late on cheques to the landlord.
That’s Glass. It’s a continuation of when he held a comical court in the corner of the locker-room with former Canuck teammates Kyle Wellwood and Darcy Hordichuk. They were usually doubled over in laughter over a joke or a prank because Kevin Bieksa was always in on the action, too, and chirping at somebody.
“It’s a great city,” said Glass. “From whenever we lose out, it’s a couple of days in the city, and we’re back here for most of the summer. The baby has definitely changed things, but it just feels really natural. He’s a good kid and a happy baby. It’s been great. It’s been easy.”
It’s easy to dub Glass a fourth-line survivor, but he bristles at that moniker because he can and has moved up the lineup, and no player wants to be pigeonholed. The 265th pick in the 2003 draft is with his fifth club, but he’s the first to understand that you have to bring a lot to the table and maintain it to sustain a career.
He ranked 15th among NHL forwards in hits entering weekend play, and was second in blocked shots among Penguin forwards.
“I try to stay within myself and stay within my game,” said Glass. “The minute you start turning pucks over or try to go over the line and not play a game that’s my own, that’s when your a liability and the coach doesn’t trust you. My game has grown, and it’s because of the trust of making safe plays and finishing your checks on the defensive side of the puck all the time. I think I understand the game pretty well.
“As far as adapting to a different team, it can be tough at times. You don’t know anyone, and especially last year, with no training camp and just being thrown into it after the lockout. But I just try to enjoy every day and bring my smile to the rink.”
That doesn’t surprise Alex Burrows. As another undrafted winger, he appreciates every day and saw first-hand what Glass did to make himself better and his club better and harder to play against. That not only gets noticed in the room but around the league.
“He’s not the flashiest guy and making the most-skilled plays out there, but you need the sandpaper,” said Burrows. “To be there for his teammates and work the boards hard and give you five to 10 hard minutes, people don’t understand because you have to stay positive and the little things are big when you get to the grind of a season. And he was really appreciated and loved Vancouver — he would do yoga and paddleboard and all that stuff.”
Glass could be bitter about how his Canucks career ended. After the Cup run, the unrestricted free agent wanted to remain with Vancouver but wasn’t re-signed. He agreed to a one-year $750,000 US contract with the Winnipeg Jets on the first day of free agency and he set career highs for goals (5), assists (11) and points, marks he’ll surpass this season.
The Penguins were obviously impressed. They gave Glass a two-year deal the following year at $1.1 million US annually, a contract that expires after this season.
“I don’t worry about getting a new deal, it’s a matter of what it is,” stressed Glass. “I think I’ve proved myself to be dependable and I know my role and I’m good at things. When you get down to those long stretch runs and you know your top-line guys are taking those cross-checks every time they go to the net, if you can go out there and eat up some minutes and chip in a goal, that’s hockey. It’s a big advantage.”
Glass now rubs shoulders with Sidney Crosby, and playing on a club that could contend for the Stanley Cup is not lost on him. And as much as the Penguins captain sets the performance bar, his demeanour in the room isn’t what we all see on TV.
“He’s got his media voice and schtick for you (media) guys, but he’s a funny guy and one of the boys,” said Glass. “He’s always in on the jokes and part of the group.”
When the expiry date on his career shows up, you won’t find Glass moping. From playing in Penticton, Nanaimo, Dartmouth, Rochester, Florida, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh, he’s exactly what he doesn’t want to be called. He is a survivor. For all the right reasons.
“I think about life after hockey all the time, but have I decided what I want to do? No,” said Glass. “I love the game and I’d like to stay in it, but after you travel around in planes, trains and automobiles for years, by the end it might be time to step back. I love to travel, and we’re going to Lisbon and London during the Olympic break.”
And not watch the Sochi hockey showdown?
“Of course,” he chuckled. “They have TVs over there.”
A capsule look at some other former Canuck fourth-liners still playing in the NHL:
MAXIM LAPIERRE, 28, St. Louis Blues
The skinny: Brought gab and jab to the Canucks and was at his best when he kept his feet moving, his eyes open and mouth shut and filled in for injured Manny Malhotra on third line.
Scored in 1-0 win over Boston in Game 5 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final. Got a two-year deal from Blues to become effective 200-foot player for Ken Hitchcock.
Has played for Montreal and Anaheim.
The quote: “That ride to the Cup final helped me a lot with character and being more mature. I had a great time.”
TAYLOR PYATT, 32, Pittsburgh Penguins
The skinny: Blessed with size and often hampered by a lack of physicality — hence the Quiet Pyatt moniker — has stayed in the game because teams covet a 6-foot-4, 220 pound winger who can skate and initiate when the spirit moves him.
He has had first, second and third-line time, but never really excelled and has also player for the Islanders, Buffalo and Phoenix.
The quote: “I was put on waivers (Rangers) and there was the possibility of going to the AHL and then you end up going to the top team in the conference. I’m pretty fortunate to end up here.”
MIKE BROWN, 28, San Jose Sharks
The skinny: A middleweight with the heart of a heavyweight, the combination of a good stride and a hard head have allowed Brown to play for Anaheim, Toronto and Edmonton.
The quote: “I play the same game no matter what team I’m on. With these guys bringing me in, I’m not looking too far into anything and the reason they brought me here is because I play that energy role and to be physical.”
AARON VOLPATTI, 28, Washington Capitals
The skinny: There’s recent video evidence of his toe-to-toe bloody brawl with Mike Brown to prove that when he plays, Volpatti brings a mix of skating and willingness despite a freak accident. The Canucks exposed the Revelstoke native to waivers to clear a roster spot and goofed. Fortunately, they have lucked out with Tom Sestito.
The quote: “I was 19 and we (Vernon) lost in the BCHL final. We went camping and one thing led to another. We were being a little stupid and I spilled a little bit of gas on myself and the next thing you know, I got badly burned.”
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