They’ve been hearing it all their lives: “You’re too small”, “You haven’t scored enough”, “Undrafted players never make it to the NHL”. Well, don’t look now, but Glen Metropolit and Jeff Halpern are doing just fine, thank you very much. They may have taken different paths to get here, but they are living out their dreams that seemed out of reach for so long.
At the start of last season, Metropolit and Halpern were wondering when and if their NHL careers would ever start. One year later, they were standing on the ice at the National Car Rental Center in Miami on opening night wearing their Capitals uniforms. Metropolit began last year with the IHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins without an NHL contract. It was his second year with the Griffins, and his fourth pro season during which he had played for five different teams. Halpern was playing out his senior season at Princeton University, and although there was interest from NHL clubs, he was prohibited from signing a contract until he had graduated. But by the end of the 98-99 season, both had come to terms with the Caps, and were playing in the AHL with the Portland Pirates. Glen played in twelve games, scoring five goals and eight points, while Jeff suited up for six games – scoring two goals and three points.
Glen Metropolit was born and raised in Toronto, and lived in the very dangerous Regent Park area. He used hockey as an escape from the drugs and crime around him. He and his friends played on rinks that were a hangout for druggies and prostitutes. His younger brother Troy was not as lucky. He didn’t have Glen’s talent for hockey, and fell into the wrong crowd. Troy is currently in prison awaiting trial on several charges, including abduction.
Glen never got the chance to play major junior hockey – an astounding fact considering the city he lived in now boasts three OHL teams. Instead, he took the unusual route of Ontario Junior B for two years at age 18, and then across the country to British Columbia Junior at age 21. His offensive numbers were enough to attract the attention of the Nashville Knights of the ECHL, where he scored more than a point per game in 1995/96, and earned a one game call-up to the parent Atlanta Knights (IHL). The next season, he signed on with Pensacola (ECHL), netting 82 points in only 54 games. He once again got the call to the IHL, playing 22 games for the Quebec Rafales. All of this convinced Grand Rapids to give him a chance, and he didn’t disappoint as he scored 20 goals, and notched 55 points. Glen stayed with the Griffins for a second season, and shot the lights out with 81 points – a total that placed him tied for eighth in the league.
It didn’t take long for the Capitals to come calling, although few would have predicted he would get this extended stay in the big leagues. Glen used an incredible training camp to force his way onto the roster. The Caps did send him down to Portland for a short time, but he was recalled soon after. He even found himself on the top line with Adam Oates and Peter Bondra for a few games.
Jeff Halpern, on the other hand, was born to be a Washington Capital. A native of nearby Potomac, Maryland – he spent his youth playing on junior Capital teams, and never doubted the fact that he would be playing in DC someday. Although he was blessed with loads of talent, he was deemed to small for the NHL at 5’11”. He decided to play for the Princeton Tigers in the NCAA, and struggled for his first two years. In his freshman season, he collected 14 points, and raised that to a respectable 31 points in his sophomore year. Decent numbers, but not enough to get NHL scouts to notice. At that point, the big leagues had never seemed farther away. He knew he had the skills to play, but would he ever get the chance?
In his junior year, he broke out, scoring 28 goals and 53 points. All of a sudden the scouts were beating a path to his door. Jeff politely said, “Thanks, but no thanks” for two reasons: #1 he wanted to finish university, and #2 he wanted to be a Washington Capital. His senior season was a formality, as there was an NHL contract waiting for him as soon as the buzzer sounded on Princeton’s final game. Jeff came to training camp with a good shot at making the team as the fourth line centre. He wowed the Capitals coaching staff with his skill and work ethic. He hasn’t looked back from there, filling every role imaginable on the team, and playing in every game so far.
The Capitals are a young team with a slim chance of going far in the playoffs. Glen Metropolit and Jeff Halpern have proved that they belong in the NHL, and have made it exciting to watch the Caps again after a dismal 98-99 season. There is every reason to believe that these two will be part of the rebuilding process and will form the nucleus of future Capitals teams with young stars-in-waiting like Bulis, Zednik, Svejkovsky, Konowalchuk, and Nikolishin. As far as their pasts and critics are concerned, they don’t seem to matter anymore. As long as they get to stay in the NHL.