Gleason coming of age for SoHi hockey

Posted: Tuesday, November 21, 2000

Meet John Gleason, Soldotna's 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior defenseman with a handshake as firm as his wrist shot, and it would seem that maturity wouldn't be an issue.

But assuming Gleason's large physical qualities are tied to maturity is something Gleason, who will graduate high school when he is just 17 years old, has had to contend with throughout school.

"He's been the big, young kid all the way through," said Gleason's dad, Tim Gleason. "He's always been the biggest kid in his class, so people always expect him to act more mature.

"But a 10-year-old is still a 10-year-old. It doesn't matter how big he is."

Usually, seniors have already arrived. But Gleason is still in the process of getting there.

"He's just starting to mature and come into his own," said Gleason's mother, Janet Gleason. "He used to be shy and quiet, but now he's starting to get away from that."

Soldotna coach Pat Nolden agrees.

"Since his freshman year, he's grown up," said Nolden, who has coached him for four years. "When he started as a freshman, he was immature.

"Now he's turning into a real young man, a good student-athlete."

This year, Gleason has made a big adjustment on the ice that smacks of maturity. He has given up the post at his traditional forward spot in order to play defense for the forward-rich Stars.

"I talked to Nolden about it and we decided I'd stick back on defense," Gleason said. "We have plenty of forwards this year."

The impetus for the change came from a tryout Gleason had this fall for a select Midget team in Anchorage.

The coach of the team liked Gleason's size and asked him if we would try out for defense. Gleason wasn't really expecting to make the team anyway, so he gave it a shot.

When he made the team, he had a new position.

He also had a problem.

Gleason had been playing football for the Stars since his sophomore year. But making the Midget team meant Gleason would need to balance three or four trips to Anchorage each week with football practice and school.

"He's such a hard worker," said Soldotna football coach Rob Dimick, who got minutes at tight end and defensive line from Gleason. "He worked so hard on the football field. In addition to that, he was playing hockey."

Gleason helped move the Stars to the small-schools state championship game, where they fell to Nikiski. Dimick said Gleason was an all-state caliber player, but wasn't visible enough to get that honor.

After football season, Gleason wasn't free to set his sights on hockey yet. His parents require him to keep a 3.0 grade point average in order to play sports and his 17-year-old mind was struggling with a subject that often boggles 22-year-old minds -- Calculus.

"In his freshman year, he didn't play hockey most of the high school season because he didn't have a 3-point," Tim Gleason said. "I don't think he thought we'd take him off the team, but we did."

"A D may be good enough for the (Kenai Peninsula Schools Activities Association), but it's not good enough for us."

Gleason said he responded to the Calculus challenge and got his grade up with a lot of help from his teacher.

That meant the path was clear for Gleason to skate for the Stars in his senior year. What Nolden is even more excited about is that Gleason will be doing most of his skating backwards because he now plays defense.

"We were short on defense and long in the tooth as far as forwards go," Nolden said. "When he went to Anchorage and came back to us already trained as a defenseman, it was a dream come true."

Gleason said he still needs to work on stopping a rush and clearing the puck out of the zone, but overall the change has been a success. His dad said he has noticed his son has better passing and shooting skills after spending five weeks at a hockey camp in Minnesota this summer.

Of course, the change to defense hasn't curbed Gleason's appetite for scoring goals. The senior said he first started liking hockey when he led his Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association league in scoring during his second year in the sport.

He already has three goals this year and has kept a positive plus-minus rating.

"He'll go in kind of deep into the other team's zone," Nolden said. "It's a good-thing, bad-thing situation. When he's scoring goals, it's a good thing."

As for the future, Gleason's plans are as firm as the typical 17-year-old.

His dad was always against him playing junior hockey after high school, but now he sees that as a possible way to let his son mature for another year "before we start paying expensive tuition."

Gleason, who has worked the past two summers on the slime line at a cannery, said he plans to go to college eventually, but as of yet he doesn't know what he will study.

For now, Gleason's mother and father will be content with treasuring the time Gleason and his brother, Egan, spend on the ice together for the Stars.

"It's not that big of a deal to them, but we really enjoy watching them play together," said Tim, who, along with his wife, learned the game with his sons. "When they step off the ice for the last time this year, that will probably be the last time they're on a team together."

Meanwhile, Gleason said playing with his brother "isn't a big deal." Maybe it's one of those things he'll appreciate when he's older.

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