In two months, the NHL will pay its first visit to Zug, Switzerland, when the New York Rangers take on EV Zug of the Swiss Nationalliga A in an exhibition game at Bossard Arena as part of the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge. One long-time NHL player who needs no introduction to the city of 26,000 is EV Zug forward Glen Metropolit.
A veteran of 407 regular-season games with seven NHL clubs, Metropolit signed a one-year guaranteed contract last summer with EV Zug that included an option for a second season. Metropolit then led the Swiss league in scoring (53 points in 47 games) for the second time in his career. In the playoffs, he helped lead the fourth-place team to the semifinals, compiling a dozen points (2 goals, 10 assists) in 10 games. He also proved to be a dominant faceoff man and top-notch penalty killer in addition to his lofty scoring statistics.
Metropolit, who turned 37 in June, played so well throughout the 2010-11 season that there was never much suspense over whether his contract would be extended. Both the player and team indicated early they were interested in continuing the relationship. Sure enough, Metropolit's option for 2011-12 was exercised Feb. 15.
Although primarily a third-line or fourth-line player during parts of eight seasons in the NHL, Metropolit reached double-digit goals three times, including a 16-goal season with the Montreal Canadiens in 2009-10. In European hockey, he has been an elite offensive player in Finland and Switzerland. Along the way, his underdog success story has won him admiration and respect on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Metropolit has had to scratch and claw for every bit of success he has achieved. He grew up in a subsidized housing project in the rough Regent Park section of Cabbage Town in downtown Toronto. He barely knew his father, Bruce, who spent considerable time in prison. A younger brother, Troy, also later went down the wrong path in life. Glen rose above his surroundings, thanks to his own inner strength, the love and devotion of his mother, Linda, and the good fortune of having caring coaches and teammates who recognized his will to succeed. It is not an exaggeration or a cliché to say that Metropolit's love of hockey was his salvation.
"I owe everything to hockey," he said. "I'm not ashamed of where I came from or embarrassed to talk about it, but a lot of people have it much worse than me. I always had love and support, and that's more than some other people have. I'm just grateful for this game. I appreciate every chance to put on the uniform, and the rest is up to me."
Throughout his career, Metropolit has defied the odds in climbing the ladder to professional hockey. He survived the final cut on his youth team and never played junior hockey, suiting up for the Richmond Hill Riot of the Metro Junior 'A' Hockey League. After posting 100 points for Richmond Hill in just 49 games in 1993-94, Metropolit moved to British Columbia to play for the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL. He hoped to parlay a strong season into an athletic scholarship to play college hockey in the United States.
He received a scholarship offer from Bowling Green University, and he signed a letter of intent to enroll. However, the scholarship was rescinded after the college learned Metropolit likely would be ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA. Instead, his BCHL success (117 points in 60 games) led to him signing a minor-league tryout contract with the Nashville Knights of the ECHL.
After two seasons in the ECHL, he moved up to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the original International Hockey League. During the summer, he played for a team in Roller Hockey International. Metropolit's IHL success eventually caught the eye of the Washington Capitals, who signed him in the summer of 1999, and he made his NHL debut that fall. Over the next four seasons, Metropolit bounced between the NHL and AHL, dominating offensively at the AHL level but playing primarily on checking lines for the Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning.
At 5-foot-10 and 196 pounds, Metropolit lacked the type of size NHL teams generally prefer, and he lacked elite speed. Nevertheless, he made himself into a useful part-time NHL player by virtue of his versatility, playing all three forward positions and moving around the lineup as needed.
But Metropolit's career hit a crossroads in the summer of 2003. For the first time in several years, he spent the majority of the previous season in the AHL (tallying 30 points in 33 games for the Portland Pirates), and it was clear that he did not fit in the plans for the Capitals or any other NHL team. As a result, he opted to try his fortunes in Europe. Metropolit spent two prosperous seasons in Finland's SM-Liiga with Jokerit Helsinki, establishing tremendous chemistry with linemate Marko Jantunen and becoming an instant fan favorite in Hartwall Arena.
In the summer of 2005, Metropolit moved to Switzerland, signing a one-year contract with HC Lugano. He enjoyed even greater success in Nationalliga A, leading the league in scoring (65 points in 45 games, including a league-best 42 assists). Metropolit stepped up his game yet another notch in the playoffs, totaling 9 goals and 26 points in 17 games en route to Lugano winning the championship. After the club-team season ended, Metropolit played for Canada at the 2006 World Championship.
"Playing in Europe has helped my career," Metropolit said. "I gained a lot of confidence, and NHL teams started to show interest again. It opened some doors for me, and I knew I had the option of returning to Europe if it didn't work out in the NHL."
Things worked out well for Metropolit in North America. He returned to the NHL for the next four seasons, playing for the Atlanta Thrashers, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens. His greatest success came in Boston and Montreal, after earning his roster spot via preseason tryout and a waiver claim, respectively.
During the 2007-08 season with Boston, Metropolit played all 82 games (for the only time in his NHL career), and had 11 goals and 33 points. He also played well in his first full season for Montreal after being claimed off waivers the previous season from Philadelphia. Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury March 30, 2010, ending a season that saw him log an NHL career-high 16 goals. With the Stanley Cup Playoffs looming, he returned to the lineup ahead of schedule, joining the Habs for the third game of their first-round series against the favored Capitals.
Although there still was some NHL interest in Metropolit when he became a free agent after the 2009-10 season, he opted to accept EV Zug's offer. The biggest advantages of signing in Switzerland were the opportunity to play an easier schedule with less demanding travel, a virtually assured spot on EV Zug's top line and a competitive salary to boot. In the NHL, Metropolit was a respected foot soldier; in Switzerland, he's a star.
"There is a great hockey tradition in Switzerland, and it's a beautiful country be in with a lot to offer apart from hockey," Metropolit said. "The one thing I'd like to help do is to bring a championship to Zug."
Apart from Metropolit, the import contingent on the 2011-12 EV Zug squad once again will feature former NHL players Josh Holden and Andy Wozniewski. Holden, a center who has spent the last three seasons with Zug and the last seven seasons in Switzerland, tallied 16 goals and 52 points last season. Wozniewski, a defenseman, scored 10 goals and racked up 123 penalty minutes for Zug last season. The team is coached by former NHL player Doug Shedden, who has been a coach in various European leagues for much of the last decade.