Toledo rookie defenseman Joe Gleason has gone from the big fish in the pond to the small fish with the Walleye.
Just a few months ago, Gleason was a senior at North Dakota University enjoying the spotlight of a fanatic college hockey fan base. Gleason, who is 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, now plays the sport for a living. The first-year pro said the transition is tricky.
“It's a lot different,” the 23-year-old said. “In college we already would have reached our game quota for a season and here we have another 40 left, so it's going to be a challenge. And it's not just the schedule of games. The off ice is so different too. In college you can't find five minutes for yourself going from class, to practice, to studying. But in the pros you have a whole day to fill. It's definitely a grind. But it's a challenge in a good way. I really like the pro style.”
ON THE HOOK: Joe Gleason
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Just last spring, Gleason was soaking up the admiration on senior night at North Dakota where home games regularly attract crowds of 11,000.
“I was very emotional that last game,” he said. “I got very attached to the program.”
In 143 games during a four-year college career, Gleason scored six goals with 40 assists.
"It's one of those experiences that I will remember the rest of my life," he said.
In December the rookie found himself napping on the floor of Toledo's sleeper bus. During a road trip to Evansville, Ind., Gleason wrote this amusing post on Twitter:
“17 bunks... 18 players... Rookies draw cards... I draw a 2... 2's apparently aren't high... I'm on the floor #blessed.”
Gleason said he and his fellow Toledo rookies joke all the time.
“Our buses are great, but the rookies always get the tail-end of things,” he said. “That day I ended up on the floor. There's always a rookie on the floor.”
Gleason started his pro career this season in the American Hockey League with Toledo's affiliate in Rockford. On Nov. 14, he was assigned to the Walleye.
The native of Edina, Minn., has played in 24 games for Toledo. He has dished out eight assists and has scored two goals.
Gleason, who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2008 draft, scored his first pro goal on Nov. 17.
The season will reach its halfway point for Toledo on Friday when the Walleye host Wheeling.
The team (12-20-3) has struggled to find consistency and sits in last place in the Eastern Conference. Toledo has a winning percentage of .386 and has given up the second most goals (132) in the ECHL.
Gleason said the team needs to find an identity.
“There's no doubt in our locker room in our ability to win games,” he said. “ We will get on a run.”
The Walleye are 4-13-3 on the road and 7-12-3 against division opponents. Toledo, which is 8-7-0 at home, will play three games this weekend at the Huntington Center.
“That is huge with our venue and the fans. We have to use that to our advantage,” Gleason said. “We have the best fans you could ask for. It makes me feel like I did in college. There have been ups and down that will cause them to criticize or ridicule you. But any good sports fan is passion about their team.”
Gleason said a key to getting back into the playoff race is to play one game at a time.
“You can't look at the standings and say say we have to win 15 in a row,” he said. “You have to focus on one period at a time. You can't look too far ahead or you will drive yourself crazy.”
Gleason said roster instability with players coming and going through promotions to the team's AHL affiliates has been a major challenge.
"Sometimes it can be hard on guys when the lineup changes every game," he said. "It's hard for guys to mesh.”
The Walleye have lost their top three scorers to AHL promotions.
Trevor Parkes, who leads the team with 34 points, and Travis Novak (23 points) also have been called up to Grand Rapids.
Sylvania native Alden Hirschfeld (22 points) also was promoted to Grand Rapids.
“You can't use that as an excuse," he said.
Gleason said he won't use his small frame as an excuse either.
“Being only 5-9 and playing on the blue line, I have to bring something else to the table,” he said. “I use my feet because skating is my biggest asset.”
Gleason said players understand the intricacies of the game better at the pro level.
“The size and speed accelerates so much,” he said. “The level of hockey sense on the ice goes up tremendously. College is more run and gun.”
Gleason said he is reading more books now than he did in college to fill his free time.
“At least it's not accounting books,” he said.
Gleason said he has “one of best jobs anyone could ever have.”
“You're getting paid to play the sport you love,” he said. “Everything you do all day long is geared toward bettering yourself as a player.”