This month Curtis Glencross begins the last season of his four-year contract with the Calgary Flames and reflects on perseverance that got him to the NHL

Near the end of last season, the Calgary Journal sat down with Curtis Glencross after practice to discuss a series of injuries that put him out of play, and the winding path he took to become an NHL player. One thing was abundantly clear, it wasn’t easy.

Beating the odds. A concept very familiar for Glencross.

Odds that seemed insurmountable in a sport where hard-work is valued at the NHL level, but the majority of scouting directors and player personnel look for talent and prototypes over anything else. Glencross defied that mentality, just as he overcame every obstacle thrown his way during his career.

The 31-year-old alternate captain has spent a large portion of his 25-year hockey career facing adversity. Starting with the Bantam draft, where he went unselected, largely due to his small frame, he simply didn’t fit the prototypical, high ceiling type of player junior teams look for.

“I tried to make the team and I didn’t,” he recalled. “In Bantam I didn’t make the team again, so I ended up playing back in my hometown with all of my friends and had fun.”

He was small for his age, standing less than five feet tall when he was 15. Despite having the potential to play higher-level minor hockey, he played Midget C hockey in Provost, Alta. Much like his career as a whole, he overcame the severe size disadvantage.

“At that point, hockey wasn’t really the top thing on the priority list.”

Over the course of the next 17 months, the Kindersley, Sask. native grew an astonishing 12 inches, making him a commodity for expansion teams within the Alberta Junior Hockey League. In 2000, Glencross was recruited by head coach Barry Bringly of the Junior A Brooks Bandits while playing in a neighboring town.

“We weren’t very good, but it was an opportunity for me to kind of get showcased because I got to play a lot.” Glencross said of his two-year junior hockey career.

What Glencross lacked in formal hockey training and knowledge of systems, he made up for in his ability to outwork opponents. Netting 23 goals in his first season, he quickly established himself as an offensive threat and one of the team’s leading scorers.

Despite playing well throughout his AJHL career, his hard-nosed play and offensive talents did not captivate NHL scouts during his 2000 draft year, and once again he was passed over. But for Glencross, it was simply another bump on his road to success.

Moving up from junior hockey

The draft didn’t work out, but his run with the junior club earned him a full-ride scholarship to the University of Alaska-Anchorage, which was a surprise.Glencross received national recognition for his play at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. His two years there acted as a launchpad into the NHL.

Photo courtesy of UAA Athletics

“After I played a few years of junior hockey, I figured I’d go back and work somewhere or go to school or something, but the ball just kept snowballing,” he said of his unexpected post-secondary opportunity.

The 6-1 winger developed a reputation throughout the league as an offensive threat, a feat reflected in the team’s 2002-2004 statistics. Throughout his two-year NCAA career with University of Alaska- Anchorage Seawolves, Glencross scored 32 goals and 57 points in 72 games.

After receiving national recognition as the Seawolves’ leading scorer, Glencross received a call from fate; a dream that had once seemed unattainable. On the other end, a professional contract offer from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2004.

“I was never set on I was going to play hockey or make a living out of it,” he said humbly. “All of the sudden I was getting calls from NHL teams and it became a little bit of a reality.”

Glencross chose to forgo his final two years of NCAA eligibility and put his pen to paper, signing a contract on March 25, 2004.

“I started thinking this might work out for me, there might be something here.”

He signed as a free agent and was soon sent to play for the team’s minor affiliate team, the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. Though he was initially ecstatic to play on a professional level, his desire began to dwindle and uncertainty lingered as he began to question whether or not he had made the right move.

“I overcame some tough times in the minor leagues,” he said. “When you aren’t playing much and your thought is; was it really worth it to stick with it?”

“It definitely wasn’t an easy route getting to the NHL.”

Tough times that included parts of four seasons on minor league teams across America, jumping up and down from the American Hockey League (AHL) and NHL, and being traded multiple times. He had some success, but never found consistent playing time at the NHL level.

Arriving in Calgary

After he was left unsigned by the Edmonton Oilers following his best season in 2007-2008, the Calgary Flames swooped in on the available winger, and signed him to a three-year, $3.6 million dollar deal in the offseason. A deal that worked out for both parties.

Flames fans have had the pleasure of seeing Glencross turn into a valuable top six forward, and he’ll be heavily relied upon to provide leadership and offence for the upcoming season.

Photo courtesy of Gerry Thomas / Calgary FlamesThe transient player finally found a place to call home. The hard work and perseverance throughout amateur, junior, collegiate, and minor league hockey finally paid off.

He credits former head coach Brent Sutter for much of his personal and professional growth while with the Flames. Sutter says the Calgary Flames were able to instill a confidence in him and give him direction over the years.

“The easiest thing the guy could have done as a player was to get down and get frustrated with all of it and go the other way,” Sutter mentioned during a phone conversation after the last season, “but Curtis kept his nose to the grindstone.”

“He always had that skill set, so it was just getting that to flourish out of him and to get him to mature as a player by putting [him] in situations where he could grow as a player.”

Sutter says that Glencross has grown into the “A” stitched on his right shoulder after years of adapting to key situations and playing with the hard-nosed intensity that goes hand-in-hand with the last name sprawled across his back.

“Look at where he is now with the Flames, he’s a veteran player now and he is expected to not only play well, but provide leadership.”

This season and beyond

Shifting in his seat and staring coyly at the cement floor last year when the interview took place, Glencross began to mumble his hopes and fears for his future.

“I’ve got one more year on my contract and we’ll see what happens,” he said about his desire to remain in Calgary. “You never know from year to year what’s going to happen and it’s tough that way.”
“The easiest thing the guy could have done as a player was to get down and get frustrated with all of it and go the other way.”

-Brent Sutter, former head coach, Calgary Flames

Entering the season as a 32-year-old, Glencross will be relied upon to be a veteran presence on what will be a very young team in the middle of a rebuild, but what’s expected beyond this season is unknown. Randy Sportak, sports reporter for the Calgary Sun, commented on what he expects in an email:

“He does have a good attitude about being a leader and a mentor for the younger players, which is needed,” Sportak explained. “Provided his injury woes are in the rearview mirror, he should return to 25-goal form.”

Despite having the ability to provide leadership and be counted on to provide some offence, Sportak believes he will be a trade target for many teams.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flames trade him to a contender, even though, he has a no-movement clause and would have to ‘okay’ a trade,” Sportak said of the chance Glencross gets dealt.

“There would be all kinds of teams interested in acquiring him.”

Even if he doesn’t get traded mid-season, Sportak still questions his future as a Flame.

“I’m not sure he fits into what the Flames need on a long-term basis, especially if he’s looking for a lengthy contract,” Sportak said.

Impact on family

That uncertainty for Glencross’ playing career is something his family has thought about, but regardless of what happens, they look fondly on the time he had in Calgary.

The Glencross family has grown during his time with the Flames. Curtis married his wife, Tanya, during his time here, and since then they’ve added two more to their family, daughters Karter and Paisley.

Photo courtesy of Tanya GlencrossThough his now wife, Tanya Glencross, was a childhood friend, the duo did not decide to pursue a romantic relationship until he moved to Calgary in 2009. Now, the pair have layed down at “home” and started a family of their own — they have two daughters, Karter and Paisley, and are expecting their third child at the end of this season.

Tanya Glencross described this to us in an email. “We can’t really say enough about how much we appreciate the Flames and the opportunities they have given not only Curtis as a player but also our family,” Tanya explained.

“Only God knows what’s in store for our future, but one things for sure, we will never look back with regrets on the seven [great] seasons we have had with the Calgary Flames.”

Curtis Glencross hits the ice Oct. 8 in the Flames season opener against the Vancouver Canucks.

handerson@cjournal.ca & lsilva@cjournal.ca

Editor’s note: An earlier publication of this story declared that Curtis Glencross had a five-year contract, but it has now been changed to the correct length of four years.