Curtis Glencross wasn’t always this fierce.
Growing up in Eastern Alberta, the atom-aged house-league hockey player was happy to hang out with his buddies on the ice all winter and switch to some other sport during the warmer months.
And when body contact was introduced in pee-wee, the wee lad wasn’t learning how to throw a crushing check the way he has proven very capable of on the forecheck for the Calgary Flames these days — he was learning to protect himself.
“I was small. I had to learn how to take a hit and be straight on my skates, and get out of the way of hits,” the Flames winger says with a grin. “By the time midget came, I had my growth spurt.
“I think after my second year bantam, I went up four skate sizes in one summer.”
Payback was on its way.
So was the payoff.
Glencross, arguably the most consistent member of the up-and-down Flames this season, looks in the rearview mirror of his hockey life and admits there were few times he would have imagined things working out the way they have.
But his history in the game and his outlook on life growing up offer a clear vision of how the 28-year-old born in Kindersley, Sask., and raised in Provost became the relentlessly determined NHLer he can proudly claim to be today.
“It’s rewarding to look back,” Glencross says during a relaxed moment in his locker-room stall during a recent road trip. “I’ve never played double-A in my life. I played in my small town. There were 2,000 people. I played at home with my same buddies all the time.
“When I was playing midget hockey and going through high school and playing ‘C’ hockey in my hometown, I thought, ‘Alright, I’m gonna end up working with my dad in the cattle business or something like that.’ I had no intention of a career in hockey.
“I got cut from a couple of junior-A teams in my midget year. After my second year midget, I got a chance to go try out at a junior-A team and made it out of evaluation camp.
“Then it clicked in — maybe I can play a little longer.”
From the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL, Glencross made another leap to the University of Alaska in Anchorage, realizing he could also get an education out of the game he’d always considered a hobby.
That turned into a pro deal with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and he worked his way through the American Hockey League ranks to the NHL, bouncing between the Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oilers before joining the Flames as a free agent four years ago.
“It was weird. For six years, seven years, I had no chance. All of a sudden, I’ve got a shot at making the show. It was great,” Glencross says of his gradual and unexpected climb.
His seven goals leads the team and ranks him in the league’s top 30 almost a quarter of the way through the season — his first under a four-year deal he signed with the Flames this summer.
Many of his peers who have signed equally assuring contracts have fallen into ‘the comfort zone,’ in which efforts seem to subside and consistency becomes an issue.
Not Glencross. If anything, he’s hungrier.
“If you’re playing a sport, and you’re just in it to get a paycheque, you’re in it for the wrong reason,” he says with a shake of the head and a quiet tone. “You’re playing for your city, your organization and your teammates.”
Wanting to prove deserving of the US$10.2-million over four years, which includes a critical no-movement clause, Glencross hasn’t let anyone down following his career-best 24-goal, 43-point season last year.
“Seems like there are always contracts that are signed, and guys get a little secure and feel safe. I don’t look at it like that,” he shrugs. “I look at it like they signed me for a four year deal for the player I was last year, not the player I’m going to be three years from now.
“I don’t want to be known as one of those players that sign a deal and then their next good year is a contract year. I want to be consistent.
“If I’m consistent and put up the same kind of totals from year to year, then the next contract will be even better.”
You could make a sports-themed, Christmas-season made-for-TV special on Glencross’ roots in the game and rise in his profession.
There’s definitely a message in it for kids who eat, sleep and breathe the game 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 12 months a year.
“Guys that get forced into playing double-A and triple-A and that kind of stuff at a young age, parents are driving them all the time to play regular-season, play spring hockey, play summer hockey, go to all these camps. One of the things that drives me nuts the most is in the summer time when you see 12-year-old kids in the gym working out,” Glencross says with a shake of his head. “Go play baseball. Go golfing. Go play soccer.”
Play for the passion and enjoyment, not the potential of a paycheque that doesn’t come for the majority of them anyway.
“If you’re pushed since you’re 10 or 12 years old because your parents want you to make the NHL ... I never played summer hockey. I went to one hockey school because a guy from our hometown was coaching the Golden Bears in Edmonton. So I went for two years just because he was there. That was a week for two summers in pee-wee and bantam.
“I can’t stand putting my skates on in the summer at all. Lots of guys are skating in June, July. I don’t start skating until the second week of August. You skate so much during the season.
“I grew up with a different kind of mentality.”
It’s his appreciation for how far that mentality has taken him that keeps him going and striving for better even after reaching a level that could satisfy many of those dreaming of a life like his.
“You look at all the kids now in minor hockey. They feel like if they’re not playing double-A or triple-A, what’s the point?” he says. “The worst part is kids get so frustrated that they don’t get to that level, they think they don’t ever have a shot.
“Some people are later developers. There are lots other options besides playing at that level. You can play junior-A and get a college scholarship and get four years of college or university for free.
“There are a lot more players coming out of college right now than ever. You can’t give up if you want to play the game.”
It worked for him.