The puck is about the drop. Two rugged men stare each other in the eye. They’ve picked out their partner and the dance is about it begin.
“Do you want to go?” one asks. “Let’s do it,” the other replies.
Soon, the gloves are off and fists start flying.
31-year-old New York Rangers winger Tanner Glass agreed to discuss his introduction to fighting, his most memorable fights and the ways he protects himself in an exclusive one-on-one chat with XN Sports.
For eight seasons, Glass has made a living by putting his body on the line in the NHL. This past offseason, he signed the longest and most lucrative contract of his life when the defending Eastern Conference champions came calling.
Glass agreed to a three-year, $4.35 million contract with the Rangers on free agency began on Jul. 1, 2014. At an annual-average value of $1.45 million, it was a nice bump up from the $1.1 million he earned in his final season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It was the perfect scenario for Glass. The security of a three-year deal on a win-now team with their eyes focused on Stanley Cup glory, the chance to begin a new life and move into lower Manhattan with wife Emily and young son Sawyer, the opportunity to reunite with a head coach that values his pugnacious qualities in Alain Vigneault – who in their right mind would turn that down?
Glass is realistic. Through 56 games, he is yet to record his first goal as a Ranger. He’s collected three assists and is a minus-15 player in a lineup that doesn’t carry any other players with a negative plus/minus. For Glass to survive in the NHL, he has to bring a different set of attributes to the table.
“Fighting is part of the job,” Glass said. “It’s something I don’t mind. It’s afforded me a really nice living. For eight years in this league, my role hasn’t changed. My role is to be an aggressive guy along the wall, be physical, tough and good at all the little things.”
According to HockeyFights.com, he’s been involved in 61 career regular season scraps. Despite going toe-to-toe with league heavyweights for eight years, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Glass still gets butterflies when some of the more fearsome opposition fighters request his services. Any nervousness or pre-fight anxiety vanishes once Glass is engaged with his opponent.
“Sure, you get butterflies before certain fights,” Glass said. “You’ll get butterflies before you’re supposed to play certain guys. It’s something I’ve never been scared of. Once it’s going, it’s going. There’s no time to think.”
The story of how Glass learned to fight might amaze you. On the ponds of Saskatchewan, a teenage Glass was shown the ropes by his uncles.
“Growing up, I would skate on the pond in the winter with my family,” Glass said. “My uncles used to take their leather mitts halfway off. They’d smack me hard in the face and make me mad. I was a kid. Maybe 12, 13-years-old. I’d get pissed off and try to actually punch them. They thought it was hilarious. They would hold me out. When you’re mad enough, you figure out a way to get in there and actually tag them with a couple. That’s how I learned how to do it.
“I fought a little bit in juniors. My dad and uncles used to fight when they played. It was something they taught me from a young age. I used to fight in Grade Two in the playground. I never thought I had to do this to make the NHL. I always had that scrappy way about me. It wasn’t tough for me to start doing it in pro hockey.”
The story sounds like a scene straight out of the 1986 hockey film “Youngblood,” when the main character played by Rob Lowe was taught how to protect himself and fight by his older brother who missed out on the chance to play professionally because of a career-ending injury.
The 1977 cult classic “Slap Shot” isn’t no. 1 on Glass’ list of favorite sports films. During his youth, Glass would constantly rewind and replay “Youngblood” on his VCR.
“I used to watch it all the time as a kid,” Glass said. “It’s my favorite sports movie for sure. I watched that movie countless times when I was a kid. I always had it in my mind that if I needed to fight someone in the NHL, I was gonna do it.”
Now as an eight-year NHL veteran, Glass has learned the intricacies of protecting himself.
“I can think of fights where I’ve been on the wrong side of it,” Glass said. “One of the things I’ve been best at is not getting hit. Even when it looks like I’m losing a fight. I pride myself on not taking shots flush from the cheeks down. If you’re going to take a punch, take it in the forehead or try to get it to bounce off. If you take one flush in the temple or in the lower part of your face, you tilt your head down and move.
“That’s one of the biggest things for me. I don’t necessarily look away or anything. I don’t have the reach to do that. What works for me is staying in there and getting closer. Most of the guys I fight have longer arms and are bigger than me. I need to get in closer. In the past few years, I’ve learned to switch more and use my left. That’s been a big plus.”
Glass detailed some of his most memorable bouts.
“My first one was Matt Bradley,” Glass said. “That was short and sweet. There was no reason to remember it, other than it being my first one. The first time I fought someone that could really do some damage was when I fought Chris Neil in my first year against Ottawa. It was the first time I fought someone who was pretty tough.
“One that really sticks out is when I fought Arron Asham on opening night at Madison Square Garden a couple years ago. It was my first fight as a Penguin. That was a pretty good one. My first decisive win was against Matt Martin when I was on Vancouver. He’s a good, honest player. I respect him. He does his job really well. I’m sure we’ll cross paths again pretty soon.”
Nowadays, Glass has a built up his own internal scouting report on most fighters around the league. In the past, he’d turn to HockeyFights.com and frequently browse through videos, searching for any advantage.
“When I first came into the league, I’d watch Hockey Fights on everyone,” Glass said. “Now, I feel that I know what most guys are going to do from the start. From there, it’s just feel. If there’s a new guy that I haven’t seen or don’t know much about, I’ll watch some clips on him. I used to retweet them… that was before I got off Twitter. I’m not on Twitter anymore.”
Glass believes there’s much more to his game than fighting. Vigneault has trusted him to perform on the penalty kill and Glass wants to recognized as a responsible player. Glass averages 1:05 of shorthanded minutes per game.
“You have seen the role of a traditional fighter kind of go away in the past few years,” Glass said. “I’ve always prided myself on being more than that. I think some of my biggest strengths are how I think the game, being on the right side of my checks a lot of the time, being responsible defensively. If you can’t be responsible defensively, you can’t play in this league.
“For me, it’s always been about skating and thinking the game. Fighting is kind of the icing on the cake.”
Glass has endured criticism at nearly every turn of his Rangers career. Teammates know exactly what Glass is about. He’s going to be physical, aggressive and a team-first guy.
“He brings a great attitude whenever he’s in the lineup,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh told XN Sports on Mar. 10. “He puts himself on the line for the team and wears his heart on his sleeve. You need to have someone like Tanner in order to have a successful team.”
Glass is tuning out the debate on whether he’s a useful component in the Rangers’ lineup. He’s not picking up the paper, he stays away from social media. What matters to him is the daily feedback he receives from the coaching staff and teammates.
“You can look at outside stuff if you so choose,” Glass said. “I choose not to. What matters is that you come in and get the report from the coaches on how the game went the previous night. You feel it out with your teammates.
“If you’re not playing well, you’re unhappy with your game. You can ask anyone in this room, there’s no one who puts more pressure on each guy than themselves. Even if people don’t think I’m playing well, I’m comfortable with what I’m doing. I’m playing my role. I know the points haven’t come this year. If you look at certain metrics that people look at these days, they’re not going to favor me. That’s fine.”
What matters most to Glass is that he knows that opponents hate playing against him.
“I’m pretty proud of the fact that most nights, I can look across at a defenseman and know he’s not excited to play against me,” Glass said. “That’s my game.”