Tim Gleason doesn’t have a locker stall with the players, and he doesn’t share an office with the coaches. He puts on his skates sitting in a desk chair in equipment manager Skip Cunningham’s office, an old No. 6 nameplate taped to the cinder-block wall behind him.
To his right, down the hall, sits the Carolina Hurricanes dressing room, where Gleason spent parts of nine seasons as a player. To his left is the warren of rooms belonging to coach Bill Peters and his staff, Gleason’s colleagues now. Gleason sits in the middle, caught between playing and coaching, which is just fine with him at this point in his life.
“I was lucky to get that transition really quickly, to get my feet wet,” Gleason said. “Usually you wait a period of time until an opportunity comes up. I actually never saw myself getting involved in coaching, to be honest. The more and more I do it, the more I enjoy it.”
Gleason is neither coach nor player, but something between. Only a few months removed from a long career as a hard-nosed NHL defenseman, he’s exploring an unusual new hybrid role that asks him to act like a coach on the ice and a player off of it. He’s a volunteer mentor for the Hurricanes’ young defensemen, a sounding board for the other players and, at home games, an overhead observer from the press box in communication with the Carolina bench.
He’s a guy who can relate to them, player to player. He’s still a player, really.
Canes coach Bill Peters on Tim Gleason
When the team goes on the road, Gleason stays home with his wife and three kids, all under 10. When the team is at home, Gleason comes to the arena, just as he always did, just not doing what he always did.
This new role came about at the invitation of Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis, in the same phone call when Gleason told Francis that after skating with the team for a few weeks in November, he was officially retiring. At 32, Gleason thought he could still play a little bit, but he didn’t want to play just a little bit, sitting out for weeks at a time as a seventh or eighth defenseman. He also didn’t know what he was going to do next, so Francis’ offer became a welcomed transition at what is so often a difficult time in an athlete’s life.
So now Gleason lives in this netherworld where the younger players see him as a coach and his old teammates see him as a colleague. Cam Ward is one of his best friends. He played alongside Eric Staal for a decade. The Hurricanes players twice voted him the winner of the Steve Chiasson Award, their highest honor. Those relationships run deep, but that’s exactly why Peters considers Gleason so valuable.
“I’ll talk to him about a player and say, ‘Spend some time with him, do this, do that.’ And I won’t tell him what I’m trying to get out of it, and he’ll do it in a different way, so it’s not coming from me all the time,” Peters said. “It’s not in my office. And they have a lot of respect for ‘Gleas’ because of the way he played when he was in the league. He’s a guy who can relate to them, player to player. He’s still a player, really.”
This is not a permanent situation, but there’s no hurry to clarify it, either. Gleason is happy to be a part of something. He’s also ready to lace it up again, if needed. For maybe 12 or 14 minutes. And some penalty killing. But that’s all.
“A player-coach who possibly could come back as a seventh defenseman,” Gleason said. “But not skate hard. Just play in games.”
Gleason laughs. His days of skating hard, he knows, are over. The next phase of his career has begun, whatever it turns out to be.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock