Author's note: This article originally appeared in the Dec. 3 edition of the Kindersley Clarion.
Not so long ago, Curtis Glencross was toiling away as an 18-year-old with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Eight years, three leagues and four NHL organizations later, the Kindersley native has established himself as a valuable two-way player in the best hockey league on the planet.
Glencross, 25, is now a second-year winger with the Calgary Flames, and he has quickly become a staple on the team’s gritty but fast third line.
“I’m getting more comfortable, more confidence and more playing time,” says Glencross, who is on fire lately with 11 points in his last nine games. “I’ve been playing with Craig Conroy consistently and we’ve had the chemistry since day one. It’s nice to know that there’s a bunch of different guys that can fill in with us. Whoever they seem to throw in, sometimes (Rene) Bourque, sometimes (David) Moss is in with us, we seem to have success.
“We’re not trying to do anything fancy, just keep it simple and get pucks in behind the defensemen, kind of grinding it out.”
Grinding it out is what Glencross has done his entire career, both on the ice and through his tedious journey to pro hockey.
Glencross’ father Mel was in the cattle business in Kindersley, while his mother Robin’s family came from nearby Brock. The family moved to Provost, Alberta when Glencross was five years old. He had played his first two years of minor hockey in Kindersley and Brock and continued through the system in Provost.
“Small towns do have good hockey programs and it helps build them up,” Glencross said from Calgary recently. “There are so many different routes you can go now and so many people are involved in the game in the small towns.”
Glencross, whose grandparents Glen and Bette Strutt still live in Kindersley, didn’t seem to be headed for the NHL during his early years playing midget C in Provost. Even after being given a roster spot by the expansion Bandits, the odds of him making it big were long. But in what is becoming a more frequent occurrence, Glencross’ unusual path led him from junior A to the NHL.
“Junior A is a good alternative,” said the six-foot-one, 192-pound forward. “For guys that are late bloomers or are more interested in the school route than the WHL or CHL, it’s good for them to have a place to go besides the CHL. So there’s more options out there for kids.”
After two years with the Bandits, Glencross was offered a scholarship by the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves. And it only took two seasons for him to move up the ladder again. He hadn’t gotten any attention from the NHL during his draft year of 2001, but the Anaheim Ducks took notice in spring 2004 when he led the Seawolves to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s Final Five for the first time in school history.
The Ducks have become notorious for signing unknown players from the NCAA and turning them into solid NHL players; look no further than Chris Kunitz and Dustin Penner. Glencross believes the growing trend makes a lot of sense.
“That’s a part of their recruiting and lots of teams are starting to get more college guys because they have a few more years to mature. They’re stepping in at 22, 23, 24 instead of at 18 or 19 when you’re still a kid.”
The plucky winger’s next stop was Cincinnati, Ohio, where he would play with Anaheim’s American Hockey League affiliate. After one season, the Ducks signed an agreement with the Portland Pirates, so Glencross went off to Maine. Halfway through his second year in Portland, he was called up to The Show.
Thrown on a line with up-and-comers Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Glencross scored his first NHL goal on his first shot against the Colorado Avalanche.
“I got an opportunity and a chance to crack the team and I made the best of it,” he said. “You’ll always remember your first NHL goal.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets perked up immediately. Who was this prairie kid who had seemingly come out of nowhere? The Jackets’ curiosity got the better of them and a few days later, they acquired Glencross from Anaheim. He spent most of the season’s remainder with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, but 2007-08 would be his coming out party, when he started the year in the NHL and stayed there.
Glencross impressed Blue Jackets brass and scouts around the league with his energetic and physical brand of play, putting up 12 points in his first 36 games with Columbus. But he saved his best performance for his family and friends in Calgary on Dec. 1.
“Playing here against Calgary last year, I had a two-goal night and the OT winner. Going on Hockey Night in Canada after the game and talking to those guys, it was special, watching Hockey Night in Canada growing up and finally getting that opportunity to go on there yourself.”
The overtime winner was vintage Glencross: no breakaway, no slick moves. He grabbed a loose puck and buried it behind Miikka Kiprusoff. That’s how Glencross operates: keep it simple and get it done.
The Edmonton Oilers thought so much of Glencross that they parted with defenceman Dick Tarnstrom to bring him to Alberta in early February. Suddenly, the kid from midget C was playing with his third NHL team in about a year.
The Oilers figured the grinder’s toughness and speed would serve them well down the stretch and possibly in the playoffs. Edmonton fell three points short of the post-season, but Glencross was turning more heads, not only with his physical play but by putting up nine goals in 26 games.
Then he came face-to-face with another new frontier: unrestricted free agency. Glencross took advantage by moving as close to home as possible.
“There was a few teams interested and Calgary was really aggressive,” said Glencross. “Once they found out Edmonton wasn’t going to sign me, they called right away. They gave me a good opportunity here.”
So far, Glencross has taken that opportunity and run with it, racking up five goals and 15 points in his first 24 games. In fact, the left winger made his second Hockey Night in Canada appearance last Saturday after setting up the game-winning goal in Calgary’s 3-1 win over Vancouver.
Glencross attributes part of his recent success to playing for Mike Keenan, who is well known for his love of tough-nosed grinders.
“It feels better with Keenan. It’s the kind of game (the Flames) like and if you go work hard for them they’re going to help you out. That’s part of why I came here because I’m a hard-working player and a gritty player and that’s what they like and that’s the style they want me to play.”