Back in May of 2015, six months after he played what would be his last National Hockey League game, Ryane Clowe coached a Newfoundland hockey team.
Bet he didn’t figure he’d be doing that again.
Wednesday morning, the Toronto Maple Leafs made official what was reported on www.thetelegram.com over the weekend, that the 35-year-old Clowe is the new coach of the ECHL expansion team, the Newfoundland Growlers.
The Growlers are an affiliate of the Maple Leafs, who will be paying Clowe’s salary.
The former NHLer, born in St. John’s and raised in Fermeuse and later Mount Pearl, will be on the job almost immediately, working with other coaches in the organization at the Maple Leafs’ development camp next week, and at Toronto’s NHL and AHL training camps in September.
“The most important thing was to get the right coach. There were some very, very good people interviewed. If it happened to be that it was someone who could be the face of the organization, that’s fine. But the important thing was getting the best coach, and I think we did that.”
Growlers CEO Glen Stanford
In Clowe, owner of a 10-year NHL career and one of the most popular athletes ever to hail from this province, the Growlers have what is quite likely the face of the franchise.
“We want to pride ourselves as a first class organization in every way,” said Growlers CEO Glenn Stanford, who took part in the interviews of would-be coaches, “and no question having someone of Ryane’s quality fit into the whole philosophy of ensuring we have a top-notch professional hockey team in the province.”
Stanford and Leafs’ assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said the Growlers’ head coach opening generated a lot of interest within the hockey world, and while it certainly helped that Clowe was from Newfoundland and Labrador, it wasn’t the sole reason he was hired.
“The most important thing,” Stanford said, “was to get the right coach. There were some very, very good people interviewed. If it happened to be that it was someone who could be the face of the organization, that’s fine. But the important thing was getting the best coach, and I think we did that.”
“His experience and connection with the area,” said Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, “along with the potential he has shown in coaching, make Ryane the best fit for our program.”
Throughout his 10-year NHL career with the San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, Clowe brought a combination of toughness, leadership (he was an assistant captain in San Jose for three years) and scoring (his career NHL numbers read 130 goals, 225 assists, 355 points and 715 penalty minutes).
“His experience and connection with the area, along with the potential he has shown in coaching, make Ryane the best fit for our program.”
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas
However, on Nov. 6 in St. Louis, he took a hit from the Blues’ Alex Steen, and he’s never played since.
While recovering from a concussion — which was at least his second — Clowe joined the Newfoundland coaching staff for the Gatorade Excellence Challenge, a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League showcase event for 15- and 16-year-olds in Boisbriand, Que.
He took it on, he would later say, to find out if coaching turned his crank.
“He went 100 per cent all in,” said Doug Jackman, the team’s coach that year. “On paper, I was the head coach, but really, he was the force behind the bench.
“He went at it full bore.”
The weekend event outside Montreal was an opportunity for QMJHL scouts to see Newfoundland players. Clowe was familiar with the league, having played three years with the Rimouski Oceanic and Montreal Rocket.
“The passion he brought to the rink was second to none,” Jackman said. “And that was only after joining the team a week or two before the tournament.
“He was 100 per cent cut out for it, right on board from the start. I kind of knew then that would be his direction.”
The following year, 2015-16, his first full season out of hockey, Clowe did some scouting for the Devils, the team with which he finished playing.
The next year, he joined coach John Hynes’s staff as an assistant in Jersey, where he has been the past two years.
His contract expired following the end of the regular season.
“I’m grateful to the Maple Leafs for providing me with this unique opportunity, and excited to return home as the first head coach of the Growlers,” Clowe said in a statement.
The Maple Leafs, for whatever reason, refused to permit Clowe to speak with the media — and through the media, to Growlers fans — until their development camp is completed. That camp opens Monday.