April 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Gregg Krupa

Luke Glendening cashes in with Red Wings, on and off ice

Montreal Not a great deal can be celebrated when a team loses. But it was quite a day Saturday for Luke Glendening.

Undrafted in the NHL and a walk-on before playing for four years for Red Berenson at Michigan, Glendening is becoming a big achiever.

He is a grinder, for sure, and that is making him increasingly popular with Red Wings fans.

And Saturday, he scored his first NHL goal just about 12 hours after the Wings announced the restricted 24-year-old free agent was signed to a new three-year deal.

Asked about the contract before the Wings lost to the Canadiens, 5-3, albeit without sustaining too much damage to their increasingly confident playoff hopes, Glendening said he was excited but concerned it might be a distraction.

Asked about his goal after the game, and Glendening said he was thrilled when it went in, but disappointed, regardless, after the loss.

The money will go into a bank.

The security of a three-year NHL deal with the team for which he grew up rooting may go to his head in the best of ways, instilling confidence that he has the game in him to have a successful career.

The puck from his first goal?

"Someone has it," Glendening said, as he looked around the dressing room aware of the mischief that sometimes targets a rookie scoring his first NHL goal, before his mates present him with the souvenir. "I haven't seen it yet. But someone has it."

Glendening is quite a story. Never assured of anything, he plainly has achieved all he has with little trumpeting of his prospects, let alone a claim to NHL talent.

But now, he is spoken of as a fine defensive forward.

"In the last week, we played Boston and he played 18 minutes against (Patrice) Bergeron," general manager Ken Holland said. "We played Pittsburgh. Mike Babcock had him matched up against Sidney Crosby."

Crosby, we all know. But a quick reminder on Bergeron: He has 28 goals and 32 assists this season, and can be as pesky as gnats.

"And, part of that was, obviously, there's been no Datsyuk, there's been no Zetterberg," Holland allowed.

"But certainly he's earned enough confidence of the coaching staff that when we've had injuries, he's had a big role and big responsibilities."

Below the radar

Wings coach Mike Babcock likes him. He has said so with some frequency, as Glendening produces the kind of responsible, nose-to-the-grindstone shifts that his college coach, Red Berenson, told Babcock to expect.

"Glennie's earned himself a contract, and now he's set up to be a Red Wing," Babcock said. "You know, he's just got to keep earning his opportunities. He's been excellent for us.

"We didn't expect him to be on the team at the start of the year. Like a lot of guys, he's been given the opportunities that they wouldn't normally have. But now what they've done is they've come here and they've won jobs, and I assume they plan on keeping them."

That is Glendening's plan, certainly.

But, first, there was the matter of talking about his personal financial stuff, while his team is hard-pressed to make the playoffs.

"It's really exciting to know I'll be part of this organization for three years," he said, meeting with media two hours before the game, as arranged by the Wings.

"But the timing is a little weird. We've got some huge games coming up, so trying to make sure it's not a distraction."

He is aware he is not the handsomest swan on the pond. Many coaches, scouts, recruiters have looked at him, and then looked to other players instead.

"I just think it's been part of the journey. Every step has been good for me and I've learned a lot along the way. I don't think I would be where I am today without the things I've gone through.

"If you had told me a couple of years ago, and probably this year, that this would be happening, I would have probably laughed. But to be in the situation now, I'm excited and looking forward to making the most of it."

Make no mistake, like a lot of us who grew up in Michigan, when he played hockey as a kid and maybe even hollered, "He shoots, he scores!" while knocking around as a real youngster, he pictured it all in a red jersey with a winged-wheel emblazoned on it.

Like many, he wanted to play for the Red Wings. Like a select few, he is.

"Yeah, I mean, it was always a dream of mine, but you know it's everyone's dream when you are a kid. And then, as I moved up farther, I realized how actually hard it was going to be and I'm fortunate to have so many opportunities and I've been blessed with the opportunities."

Goal No. 1

Opportunity knocked, big time, again in the third period against the Canadiens. Drew Miller stopped a Montreal foray along the boards near the Canadiens' blue line, and the puck was suddenly headed the other way on Justin Abdelkader's stick.

Abdelkader made a strong play, moving the puck through suddenly retreating Canadiens' defenders without losing pace or letting them set up. Deftly, he passed the puck to his left to Glendening, who made quick work of the goal.

It had been 51 games coming, and it engendered a marvelous celebration behind the Montreal net, where the former Wolverine was embraced and patted on the head, shoulders, back and face by two clearly joyful former Spartans, Miller and Abdelkader.

It also was a huge goal, bringing the Wings to within one of the Canadiens, who established a three-goal lead in the first two periods, not long after Pavel Datsyuk had made it 3-1.

"Obviously, it was exciting at the time," Glendening said. "It was in the middle of a comeback there.

"You know, the excitement quickly faded. We needed those two points and it's frustrating to lose a game like that."

Glendening is literally making a career out of listening to what highly-accomplished coaches like Berenson and Babcock tell him, and going out and working hard to do just that.

"He plays with a lot of will and a lot of determination," Holland said. "He's hard on the puck. He's become a very good penalty killer."

He also brings an abrasive style, an ingredient for which the talent-first-and-foremost Red Wings are often in search.

As an heir to the Red Wings' gene pool of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty and Joe Kocur, Glendening is well aware of his circumstances.

At the start of the season, his only plan was to play well for the Griffins.

"Just start in Grand Rapids and see where I go, that was my initial plan," he admitted, before the game. "Whether it be get a game or play some preseason games, everything has given me the opportunity to learn and get better."

And then he immediately made clear that it is not, in fact, all about him.

Other guys were Griffins, now they are Red Wings. And it may be a struggle now for anyone to displace them.

"We were all given the chance to play and be in some big spots," Glendening said. "And I'm sure you'll be reading about other guys' contracts soon."

gkrupa@detroitnews.com

Montreal's P.K. Subban and Detroit's Luke Glendening mix it up during a recent game at Joe Louis Arena. / David Guralnick / Detroit News
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