Jan. 2, 2014
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When the puck dropped for the opening faceoff at the 2014 Winter Classic on Wednesday (Jan. 1), there in the middle of it all was Detroit Red Wings center Luke Glendening. Perhaps by design, but undoubtedly earned, the former University of Michigan captain was named Detroit's starting center for the NHL's premier outdoor contest.
And when Glendening won that opening draw, the Grand Rapids, Mich., native joined a party of one, becoming the only player to have played in both outdoor contests at Michigan Stadium. For Glendening, the Winter Classic was his fifth outdoor contest, having played in three outdoor games at Michigan (including the Big Chill at the Big House) as well as Monday's (Dec. 30) AHL outdoor contest at Comerica Park with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
"The fact that I went [to Michigan] and played at the Big House before, all of that makes it extra special," Glendening said during Tuesday's practice in Ann Arbor.
Glendening's journey to the Winter Classic is well-documented. A recruited walk-on from East Grand Rapids High School, Glendening earned a regular spot in the Michigan lineup as a freshman and was named an alternate captain as a sophomore. He led Michigan to the NCAA Frozen Four title game as the team's captain his junior year and was named CCHA Best Defensive Forward after his senior season.
Signed by the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 2012, Glendening once again earned his way up the ladder, from the ECHL's Toledo Walleye to the NHL's Detroit Red Wings, where he made his debut on Oct. 12, 2013 against Philadelphia at Joe Louis Arena.
Glendening has played 17 games with the Red Wings this season, impressing Detroit head coach Mike Babcock, who singled out the second-year pro in his Winter Classic postgame press conference after Toronto claimed a 3-2 shootout victory.
"He's been really special for us. We didn't realize he could skate so [well], work so hard, and be so mentally tough," Babcock said. "He's going to be a good NHL player. He's probably not going to score a lot, but he's going to be a good one."
For another coach, closer to home, there is pride for a player that came to Michigan as an undrafted walk-on and developed into the type of player that could start at center for the Red Wings at the Winter Classic.
"Luke is a tremendous kid," said Michigan head coach Red Berenson on Tuesday after learning of Glendening's call-up to Detroit. "He's a role player. He knows his role and he's excited to be there, so I'm excited for him."