The New York Rangers’ Tanner Glass Is a Better Breed of Tough

How an Ivy League-educated, happy-go-lucky grinder is winning over Madison Square Garden.

Inside an unremarkable gray facility off a narrow road through the woods on the Tarrytown side of the Tappan Zee Bridge, Tanner Glass is swatting at a puck like it’s a mouse and his tape-wrapped stick is a broom. The Rangers did not sign this 30-year-old journeyman to a three-year deal for $1.45 million per season—the most lucrative contract of his career—because he can shoot. The left wing has other strengths. When a teammate scores a goal (even during practice) Glass is the first to holler and pat him on the back. He was hired to be the soul of this almost-championship team, the guy who yells constantly, never complains, then goes out and does the dirty work.

This is the career Glass wanted and this is the only way the eight-year vet is going to win over Madison Square Garden, making a place for himself on the Big Apple’s only remaining competitive franchise. 

“I thought I'd be a checker or a grinder,” Glass says. “For me, you need to feel like you played the game. You need to feel bumps and bruises. Maybe you blocked a shot and your foot is swollen. Or you got hit, even. That's all part of feeling like you contributed to the game.”

Playing on the fourth line, Glass provides the punishment. While other players attempt to steal the puck from an opponent with fancy stick work, Glass says he prefers “going through him, every time. There's different ways of getting the puck back, or succeeding, and mine is the more direct route.” He’s not malicious, but he’s tough as hell. He earned 90 penalty minutes (vs. four goals and nine assists last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He doesn’t avoid contact—ever. “For me to laugh during or after a fight,” he says, “is pretty much guaranteed.”

The Rangers ranked 25th in the league last season in fighting majors with 25. That was down from the league-leading 65 - the Rangers had in 2011-12. Although not imposing at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Glass ranked eighth in the league in hits last season and quickly proved to New York his willingness to get physical.

In his first pre-season game at Madison Square Garden, Glass fought Philadelphia Flyers goon Zack Stortini. He fought again five nights later, manhandling Daniel Carcillo of the Chicago Blackhawks. Fighting is still a touchy subject in hockey, but Glass admits that it is a defining part of his years in the NHL. “There have been a few Gordie Howe hat tricks, where you have a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game,” he says with a big smile. “And those are special for me.”

A day after our conversation, Glass disciplined Avalanche winger Cody McLeod. He was smiling afterward. Glass grew up in Craven, Saskatchewan, a town of around 230 people that advertises its annual Jamboree as “the world’s greatest country music festival.” His parents began a janitorial service company with $10,000 and a few vacuums, built it up to amass 250 staff members. Tanner went to Dartmouth, but he’s not a cultural product of the Ivy League. He once watched an opponent check his father through the Zamboni doors; his father came raging back into the rink, pinned the guy over the net and pummeled him. During a playoff game, the younger Glass watched the elder Glass pull a guy down by his mullet and smash his face into the ice.

When Glass was about 13, his father and uncles started toughening him up. After games on a frozen pond behind his house, Glass would “play fight” with his dad and uncles. He desperately swung at them with bare fists and they smacked him in the face with their cold and heavy leather mitts. “It would really piss me off as a little kid,” Glass remembers. “And they would just be laughing.” Over time Glass would get less mad, figure out how to duck and dodge the mitts and even get comfortable taking hits to the face.  

As a teenager, Glass had other teachers. When he was 15, he got in a fight with another player and failed to land any good punches before being escorted to the penalty box. Seeing how frustrated Glass was, an assistant coach leaned in and said: “Go get him!” Glass did exactly that, wailing on the other kid until the timekeeper managed to separate them. He received a three-game suspension for it. He smiles thinking about it. After Dartmouth, Glass was drafted into the AHL, hockey’s developmental league. He understood, even then, that he wasn’t going to make it to the NHL without being the toughest guy on the ice. He got into three or four fights in his first 10 games in the the league. “Then I had a game where we were playing our rival in Syracuse and I had two or three blocked shots in one shift. My ankles were black and blue the next day, and I got the call to come up.” Those tactics have propelled his career ever since.

Glass first played for Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault for two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks—reaching the Western Conference Finals—and was eager to reunite with him. “I know they know my game,” he says of the Rangers’ recruitment in the offseason. Translation: The Rangers want to unleash his fury. Sure, he has notched 45 fights in his NHL career, but he adds toughness in ways that cannot be so easily measured. He’s in New York because New York teams need swagger. “The better defensemen on the other team, the guys who play the skilled, big minutes, those are the guys you target, you try to hit,” says Glass. “The more minutes they play, the more times I hit them, the more tired they are in the third period when Marty St. Louis comes down on them and puts it through his legs and, you know, maybe scores a goal.” Glass is happy to concede that he will never be a dazzling scorer. He’s fine with that, but he’s not fulfilled. He does not want anyone thinking he is comfortable simply because he landed a big contract. He promises that won’t happen. He knows he that if he’s not the toughest guy on the ice, he won’t be on the ice at all. So he’s ready to fight for New York.

“That's what you can expect from me,” he says with a smile.

Photos by Jason DeCrow / AP / Corbis