Giving a Devil his due

Robin
Robin Short
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The New Jersey Devils’ Ryane Clowe (29) flips a puck over Phoenix Coyotes’ netminder Mike Smith for a goal during a game last month in Glendale, Ariz.

Ryane Clowe back to his crashing and banging ways in wake of early-season concussion

So much for easing his way back into the lineup.    

For 32 games in October, November and most of December, Ryane Clowe was in a dark place. A Jacob Trouba elbow to the jaw on a Sunday evening in October would lead the big New Jersey Devils winger into the depths of concussion again, his second in just over six months.

Funny how the body works. Clowe is a 6-3, 225-pound specimen, ripped and tough like the side of beef Rocky pounded on in the movie. Abs and pecs are one thing, however. The brain is another.

And so when Clowe ventured into the Winnipeg Jets’ end of the rink that night in Manitoba, to finish his check on Trouba, the Jets’ rookie defenceman, it made no difference how big and strong he was, how strapping and tenacious he was. When Trouba’s elbow smashed into Clowe’s jaw, nothing could prevent the brain from rattling around inside his head.

“After the hit,” Clowe said recently, “I felt a little off. After the game, the symptoms came on pretty quick.”

His season was all of six games old.

Days stretched into weeks — long, gloomy weeks. He’d feel good for a few days, get his hopes up, only to wake up the next day back to square one.

Worse, for the first time in his life, Clowe — a player who fought and scratched and grappled the honest, if not unlikely, way to reach the National Hockey League — was getting killed on Twitter, Facebook and all the other endless means of social interaction (without exactly speaking to someone) by fans who were complaining that the Fermeuse product was a colossal waste of money, a financial millstone for years to come.

•••••

Ryane Clowe was close to becoming a Montreal Canadien. Real close. He had grown up a Habs fan, played junior hockey at the Bell Centre before the Rocket packed their bags and headed down the road to the Maurice Richard Arena, and, ultimately, P.E.I.

The Canadiens wanted to get bigger up front, making Clowe, who carved out a pretty fine career as a crash and bang winger with the San Jose Sharks and, for a short while, the New York Rangers, an attractive package.

Montreal was prepared to offer up two or three years for the 31-year-old player, and Clowe was all ears.

Until the call came from Lou Lamoriello. The Devils’ general manager, one of the craftiest in all of hockey, came bearing gifts in the form of 24 and a quarter million dollars, or $4.85 million a season, which would make him the third-highest paid player on the team. Best part was the contract was for five years.

Clowe’s reaction was predictable: where do I sign?

Thing is, it was that contract which contributed to Clowe’s physical and mental struggles as he battled concussion early in the season. It didn’t help that he suffered a head injury late last season after the Sharks dealt him to the Rangers. He didn’t play in New York’s first three playoff games, and when he did get back into the lineup, Clowe was hit by big Jason Chimera of the Washington Capitals, slamming his head against the glass, and was done for the year.

Clowe’s an honest player, a player who’s played the game the right way his entire career. It’s his badge of honour.

So, too, is pride.

It hurt to hear the whispers of a bad contract, of Lamoriello making a terrible mistake signing a player with prior concussions to a five-year deal.

“I know what was said. I heard people say, ‘That’s a long deal for him,’” Clowe said recently in New York, where the Devils played the Rangers in one of the NHL’s Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium.

“You sign a long-term deal, and you want to live up to that contract. Then you play six games and you’re out for 30. It’s not easy.

“To be honest with you, a great deal of help came from Lou. He had a couple of chats with me and he made it a lot easier for me. I was kind of down in the dumps, which concussions do to you from an emotional standpoint. I wasn’t feeling very good every which way. Lou was great, reassuring me I was an important piece to the team.

“I wanted to come back, and I wanted to make an impact.”

Clowe eventually got back in the Devils’ lineup, playing his first game in almost three months against the Columbus Blue Jackets two days after Christmas, logging 10:38 minutes of ice in a 2-1 loss.

The next night, on Long Island, Clowe started against the Islanders. On his second shift, he dropped the gloves against big, tough Matt Carkner, his former American league teammate with the Cleveland Barons.

So much for taking things slowly.

“We were kind of like, ‘Geez, look at Clowie,’” said linemate Adam Henrique. “I mean, he’s just back from a concussion, and they’re out there throwing bombs. But that’s Clowie.”

“It wasn’t planned or anything,” Clowe said of the tilt with Carkner, a scrap in which Clowe earned the decision (hockeyfights.com). “It just happened. And I was glad to get it out of the way. I was trying to be physical to get the whole concussion thing out of the back of my mind.

“I thought about this one more than the other, just where I had missed so much time. You can be physical in practice, but once you get into a game situation, you can get hit when you’re not ready for it. So far, it’s been pretty good.”

Through 27 games Clowe has three goals, 10 assists and 24 penalty minutes.

However, his value to a team cannot merely be measured by goals and assists. It’s the grunt work that’s acknowledged and appreciated by teammates, like the spadework he did on the Devils’ first goal against the Rangers in the outdoor game, when he fended off a check by Dominic Moore and fed a long pass to Patrik Elias, who scored Jersey’s first goal.

Where Devils’ teammate and first ballot Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr is an artist on ice, Clowe is a construction worker.

“His physical presence means so much to the team,” Henrique says. “He likes to be the first guy in on the forecheck, hit and create space for everyone else. He’s a big presence in the locker room, too.

“He keeps things loose. But when it comes to game time, he’s serious and a guy who likes to speak up a little bit and take control. He leads by example on the ice. He’s very smart with the puck and when things aren’t going our way, he’ll crash and bang and try to swing momentum.”

Clowe signed with the Devils on the first day of free agency in early July. A couple of hours later, Michael Ryder made a deal with the Devils.

Strange enough to have two Newfoundlanders on the same NHL team. Now the two skate on the same line, with Henrique in the middle.

“Yeah, I got Rydes here protecting me,” Clowe says with a grin.

Clowe likes to crack a joke, but is the beneficiary of a scattered barb, too. Was it Teddy Purcell who wondered how the folks at Pepsi managed to get Clowe’s, ahem, ample nose on the soft drink label after Browning Harvey produced Pepsi tins tattooed with photos of the Newfoundland NHLers?

“Actually, I think it was Teddy who told me Rydes was going to sign with New Jersey,” Clowe recalls. “I didn’t even know. You know what Rydes is like. Then there were rumours (Daniel) Cleary was going to sign here, too.”

It’s an interesting dynamic, the Clowe-Ryder-Henrique trio. Ryder is clearly the shooter, the go-to guy. Clowe is the muscle, strong-arming opponents into turning over the puck. Henrique is dashing around, creating plays.

“I played with Rydes on and off throughout the year, but once Clowie came back, we started on a line right away and we just clicked,” Henrique said.

“Everybody brings a little bit of a different element to the line. I get in on the forecheck, get the puck and find Rydes in the slot. Clowie’s in there banging away, creating space for us. And he’s certainly not afraid to drop the gloves once in a while.

“It’s been nice to have Clowie back.”

 

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

Organizations: Winnipeg Jets, National Hockey League, New York Rangers Montreal Canadien Habs Bell Centre San Jose Sharks Washington Capitals Stadium Series Columbus Blue Jackets Islanders Pepsi

Geographic location: Manitoba, New York, Montreal Yankee Stadium New Jersey Long Island

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