Boston — He’s a Top 6 forward on one of the NHL’s best teams. He scores goals, he sets up goals, he’s a physical player. He even fights when the need arises.
On top of all that, Ryane Clowe has quickly become a leader inside the San Jose Sharks’ locker room, a room chock-full of veteran presence.
“This guy can do it all,” says the Sharks’ all-star defenceman, Dan Boyle. “He plays a good, honest game and we all respect him for that.”
“He performs on the ice,” adds San Jose coach Todd McLellan, “and he backs up whatever it is he has to say.”
Once just another late-round draft pick trying to make an impression with the big club, Fermeuse-born, Mount Pearl-raised Ryane Clowe has become an impact player not only on the Sharks, but in the NHL.
Not bad for a kid who couldn’t make his bantam all-star team.
So the question remains: is Ryane Clowe the best Newfoundland-born player in the National Hockey League?
Telegram Sports Editor Robin Short was recently in Boston, on assignment covering Clowe, Bonavista’s Michael Ryder of the Boston Bruins, and Newfoundland’s finest young hockey player, rookie Luke Adam of St. John’s, recently reassigned to the American Hockey League from the Buffalo Sabres.
Catch up with Newfoundland’s top hockey talent in The Telegram.
Tomorrow: Michael Ryder
Monday: Luke Adam
Ryane Clowe was angry. Livid, really. Seething.
It was a splendid California May evening outside, but inside the HP Pavilion, where the San Jose Sharks play their NHL games, a storm was brewing within Clowe, the Sharks’ big left-winger.
San Jose had just dropped a 4-2 playoff game to the Chicago Blackhawks, to fall behind their Western Conference final series two games to none.
Clowe had seen enough.
In a fit of rage, he kicked the locker room door. A few times, really. Darn near tore the thing off its hinges. He cracked off a hockey stick. Threw a garbage can.
If some others on the Sharks were content with their semifinal playoff win over the Detroit Red Wings, then by God Clowe wasn’t. And he was about to let them know.
Chicago would win the series — in a sweep — and go on to win their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
But in San Jose, that display after Game 2 served notice that Clowe had officially arrived as a leader within a locker room full of veterans and NHL all-stars.
“Some people are cheerleaders,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “Who needs cheerleaders? You have to back it up, you have to come to the rink and perform every day, and Clowie does that. He has credibility.
“He performs on the ice and he backs up whatever it is he has to say. There’s not one guy in that locker room who can say Ryane Clowe doesn’t back up his words.”
Dan Cleary may be one of the top six forwards on the Detroit Red Wings and have a Stanley Cup ring. Michael Ryder may have garnered the most points of any Newfoundlander to play in the NHL.
But there’s an argument to be made that Fermeuse-born, Mount Pearl-raised Ryane Clowe may be the most dominant hockey-playing Newfoundlander in the world today.
On a Sharks team that had four Canadian Olympians last year, Clowe is third in team scoring, second in penalty minutes and third in hits. He is also one of the few Sharks players with a plus rating.
But to get the real story on Clowe, you have to look past the goals and the assists and the penalty minutes.
He does all the things fans sometimes don’t notice. He plays hurt. He plays equally tough on the road as he does at home. He scores on the road.
And he speaks up in the room.
It’s one of the reasons why the Sharks are paying Clowe handsomely, US$3.5 million a year for four years (he’s into Year 2 of the deal).
Saturday afternoon, in a 2-0 win over Ryder’s Boston Bruins at TD Garden, there was Clowe on the ice for the last shift, helping protect the lead.
And this on a Sharks’ team that boasts the Big Three up front — Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau, who won with Canada at last year’s Olympics.
“He can play a physical game, he can fight, he can score goals, he can make plays,” said San Jose defenceman Dan Boyle, the fourth Shark to win gold in Vancouver.
“This guy can do it all. He plays a good, honest game and we all respect him for that.”
This year, McLellan and the Sharks’ coaching staff liked what they saw within Clowe inside the locker room, rewarding him with a letter, San Jose’s assistant captain on the road.
It’s a job Clowe doesn’t take lightly, and it’s shown already this year. Twice, he’s taken his team to task publicly for what he perceived was a shoddy effort.
After a 4-3 loss to Vancouver last month, Clowe told reporters, “I guarantee you right now there are guys who don’t feel that tired after that game,” adding later that he, “absolutely” stood by his post-game remarks.
“He’s not afraid to bark, and we absolutely love to see that as a coaching staff,” said McLellan.
“I’m an intense guy and there’s nothing more I like than winning,” Clowe said after the Bruins encounter, providing the Sharks a modest three-game win streak.
“Some guys can sound like a broken record, right? And I guess words only go so far if you don’t back them up.
“But that was one of those situations where I felt the time was right. I didn’t think I was stepping out of line, not at all. I’m not one of those guys who is going to call out a teammate in the papers and not to their face. I’ll let guys know face-to-face, and I think people respect that.”
While Cleary’s about-face from a high-profile junior sensation to nearly finding himself out of the NHL to core player on a Stanley Cup champion, is one of this province’s all-time, feel-good sports stories, Clowe’s emergence to NHL stardom — yes, stardom — is just as compelling.
It wasn’t all that long ago he was in San Jose’s minor league system, just another mid- to late-round draft pick looking to make a name for himself somehow, somewhere.
Clowe was big, no doubt (today he stands 6’3” and weighs 225 pounds, without so much as a gram of fat). But the knock was that he couldn’t skate, that he wasn’t quick enough, that he
couldn’t do this, couldn’t do that.
But here he is, doing it — in the NHL.
He still won’t be mistaken for the Sedins or Martin St. Louis or any of those darty little forwards who thrive in today’s game, but Clowe motors in his own way. He’s a Peterbilt among Ferraris. And when the big diesel gets going, watch out.
You won’t see Clowe turn out end-to-end rushes like Alex Ovechkin or Pavel Datsyuk. You won’t see him dangle like Sidney Crosby and unleash the one-timer like Steve Stamkos (though, for a big man, he’s got very good hands).
No, many of Clowe’s goals come from in close, in the goalie’s kitchen. He doesn’t do anything flashy, but he’s got all the little things down pat. There are very few better at protecting the puck, working the corners, driving to the net.
Clowe, it seems, figured out a long time ago what it takes to get to the NHL and stick.
“A little of it came natural as far as hockey sense goes,” he said.
“It’s just something you have. But on the flip side, you have to figure out things and adjust quick. I think I’ve done that.”
“He actually figured all that out at 17,” said Bob Thompson, the St. John’s personal trainer with whom Clowe and Teddy Purcell and a host of other hockey players train during the summer.
“He’s one of those athletes who determined what their limitations were and worked on their weaknesses.
“He’s improved at every level he’s been at, from junior to the AHL and now the NHL. And at every level, he wasn’t supposed to be there. Even now, in the NHL, he’s still getting better.”
Upstairs in the soon-to-be-razed Smallwood Arena in Mount Pearl, among the many team photos hanging inside the display cases, there’s a photo of a Mount Pearl bantam B team from some year. In the top row stands a tall kid, a Ryan (no ‘e’) Clowe.
Imagine, an NHLer from Mount Pearl who failed to make the A all-star club.
He also didn’t make the AAA midget all-stars his first time out, spending Grade 11 at Mount Pearl’s O’Donel High School playing high school hockey and a bit of midget house league hockey.
See, While the coaches, page 2
While the coaches didn’t have confidence in the youngster, Clowe’s confidence in himself never wavered.
In fact, he says, he kind of got used to getting snubbed. But he had a goal, and nothing was going to stop him.
“My approach was this : if I’ve got to take the harder route, then so be it. Maybe I’ll eventually play junior A in the Maritime league rather than major junior, and maybe I’ll get something in the East Coast league, and maybe I’ll work my way up.
“That was honestly my thinking. I always felt I had good hockey sense and good hands. Yeah, maybe I had to work on my feet. But I always had confidence in myself and I think I just got used to the fact that I was lost in the shuffle growing up.”
In the fall of 2000, Clowe managed a tryout with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Moncton Wildcats. It didn’t last long. He ended up staying in Moncton, but with the Beavers, the city’s Maritime junior league entry.
Over the Christmas holidays that year, the Rimouski Oceanic ran into injury trouble and offered the Newfoundlander a three-game tryout.
Those three games turned into 32 that regular season, and after scoring a team-leading eight goals in the QMJHL playoffs, Clowe was drafted in June 2001 by the Sharks, 175th overall.
Among San Jose’s picks before him were Marcel Goc, Dmitri Patzold and Tomas Plihal.
“So I went from getting cut at a major junior camp, playing junior A, to getting drafted,” he said. “It’s pretty surreal.”
“Clowe’s very mature,” said Thompson, “but above everything else, he’s competitive and driven. There’s only a small percentage of the population like that.”
Hard as it is for some to understand, pure talent is only half the battle when it comes to determining the makeup of an NHL player. Rather, scouts spend endless hours trying to determine the inner workings of a player, projecting what the 17- or 18-year-old will be like as a 25-year-old, whether he is willing to play within a system, take a coach’s direction, play through the grind of a pro hockey season.
It’s a word we hear all the time — character.
“If you look at guys even playing the fourth line in the NHL,” said Clowe, “they were all goal scorers in junior or college. But they had to adjust to a different role here.
“Sure, you need to have talent to win, but if that talent is being outworked, you’re not going anywhere.
“A prime example is Detroit. They have one of the most talented teams in the league, but they all work very hard, especially Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg (who was drafted 210th overall, by the way).
“Talent will get you to junior, but when you get up with the men, it’s a different game.”
“He never improved by accident,” said Thompson, who to his credit said Clowe would make it when most others had him written off because of his skating.
“He’s home here every summer and from nine in the morning until noon, we’re at it in the gym. And I’ll tell you, it’s no walk in the park.
“But I’ll bet you from the time he was 17, if he’s missed one or two sessions in all that time, that’s it.”
“He’s a full-throttle player,” says Todd McLellan. “When I look at Ryane in the time I’ve been here (three years), the amount of growth in him as an individual and as a professional hockey player has been immense.
“And the real great thing is we believe there’s more to come.”