John Hynes, the New Jersey Devils head coach, perhaps summed up the feelings of most when he learned one of his assistants was toying with the idea of taking on a head coaching job in the ECHL.
“Really?” Hynes wondered.
Ryane Clowe enjoyed an NHL playing career that lasted almost 10 years. He earned a ton of money, and in retirement was gainfully employed by his former team, the Devils, as an assistant.
On top of that, he was due for a promotion. With Geoff Ward moving to Calgary to join Bill Peters’ staff on the Flames, Clowe was in line to head up the Devils’ special teams units.
And then came the call.
“He kind of said, ‘You don’t need to do that,’” Clowe said of the chat with Hynes, his boss and friend. “Hynesy was like, ‘You don’t need to go to the ECHL. You played, you coach in the NHL, you’re going into a third year (as an assistant), you’re running the power play and PK, you can probably go to the AHL and be a head coach.
“I said, ‘You know what, this is what I want.”
Say hello to Ryane Clowe, the face of the Newfoundland Growlers’ franchise.
Rare is Ryane Clowe mentioned in the local media without the familiar followup … of Fermeuse.
He was born in the Southern Shore community and raised (in Mount Pearl), one of the finest from these parts to ever play the game. For a four-year spell, between 2009 and 2012, he was one of the game’s top wingers, bringing a delicious combination of size, toughness, production and leadership to the San Jose Sharks.
That was until concussions derailed everything.
And now, as the Growlers prepare to make their ECHL debut tonight at Mile One Centre, Clowe returns to a hero’s welcome, the first coach in franchise history.
But don’t for a minute fall into the trap of thinking this job was but an excuse for Clowe and his family to come home.
Not on your life.
Just as he was as a player — it could be argued Clowe, who wasn’t the most skilled hockey player in the world, quite literally willed and worked his way to the NHL — he is all-in on his first head coaching gig.
The fact it’s home, well, that just happens to make it all the better.
“I respect Dean (MacDonald) and I respect Glenn (Stanford),” he said of the Growlers’ CEO and president, “but if it was just a case of them hiring a local guy to come home, I don’t think I would have come.”
You could be forgiven if you think this is Clowe’s first coaching gig in the ECHL. But you’d be wrong.
Back in 2012-13, during the NHL lockout, he practised with ECHL’s Bulls in San Francisco. Soon, he was helping Pat Curcio behind the Bulls’ bench.
“I was talking to (Sharks coach) Todd McLellan and (assistant) Jay Woodcroft after (the lockout ended) and they asked how it was,” Clowe recalls of the unofficial coaching stint. “I remember saying, ‘I think I got the bug.’
“That’s when the whole coaching thing really got going.”
Clowe was happy in New Jersey, where he wrapped up his playing career, but his biggest fear was being pigeonholed as a career assistant coach.
He wanted a crack running his own team, even if it meant dropping down to the ECHL, two rungs down the pro hockey ladder from the NHL.
Not lost on Clowe were the plans Kyle Dubas, the youthful Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager, had in mind for the Leafs’ ECHL affiliate, the Growlers.
Toronto is determined to use the ECHL as a developmental league, an entry point into the Maple Leafs’ organization.
Chalk Clowe up as a believer.
“I knew the standards would be set (from within the organization), and I knew it was really only here and Toronto, and in Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre and Wheeling that they do it this way,” he said of the Penguins, who have a similar minor league structure with the ECHL Nailers and AHL Penguins.
“This was the only thing that would lure me back from the NHL to be a head coach at this level.
“And really after spending a month in Toronto, seeing how they’re doing things, the experience I’ve received has already been worth it. Not one second have I asked myself, ‘Why did I do this?’ and it’s validated my decision to come here.”
Unlike most players, Ryane Clowe was different. When you’re 22 or 23, and trying to establish yourself as an every day NHLer, the last thing on your mind is what to do in retirement.
Whether it was coaching or working in some other capacity, Clowe always knew he wanted to stay in hockey.
He remembers really taking notice of coaching when Alain Vigneault took over the Montreal Rocket, during Clowe’s third season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“When he came in, it was like, ‘Whoa!’” he says of Vigneault, who was coming off three years behind the Montreal Canadiens’ bench, and was replacing the fired Gilbert Delorme, the former the Habs’ defenceman.
“He was an NHL coach, and that was when I started to realize how important coaching was to a team.”
Clowe isn’t stupid or naïve. He knows that his outstanding playing career has opened a door for him to slip into coaching, but he also knows that because one was a good player doesn’t mean one is a good coach.
“I have a bit a chip on my shoulder to prove that I’m about work, that I’m about advancing and getting better as a coach. I don’t think because I played in the NHL that I know how to coach.
“It doesn’t work like that. John Hynes never played at the NHL level, Todd McLellan never played in the NHL. Ken Hitchcock … Babs (Mike Babcock). They’re tremendous coaches.
“Being a good player doesn’t make you a good coach. It helps you, certainly, from a relationship standpoint with the players. I can relate with what they’re going through.
“That’s where I think I have an advantage.”
Just as he did as a player, Clowe will work at his craft. If he fails at the coaching thing, it won’t be because he didn’t put the time in.
“You have to set the standard,” he said. “Players see everything. I always say you cannot bluff a hockey player. They see everything. They’ll pick everything out. They know if you’re not putting in the hours and if you’re prepared.
“The coaching industry is so challenging now, there’s always someone getting better. You can see the knowledge, the conferences, the video. It’s constant learning.
“So I’d better make sure I’m here at 5:45 in the morning, and I’m prepared. It’s why I ask a ton of questions, why I’m always writing stuff down.
“I don’t want to come here just to be home and have a job and coach. That’s probably what surprised Toronto the most when they called New Jersey and learned this guy doesn’t just roll in at 8 o’clock with a coffee and go on up and be an eye in the sky. This guy’s in at 5:45 in the morning, doing video, looking at reports.
“I didn’t have my family in New Jersey, so I didn’t leave the rink until 7 o’clock every day (when the Devils weren’t playing). So I have a chip on my shoulder to prove that I’m not coming in here as an ex-player thinking I know it all.”
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort