Thursday, April 4, 2013

Clowe powers his way in the Rangers lineup

By Larry Wigge

He was getting a fresh start. Clean slate. Nothing to worry about ... oops!!!!

Oh, well, maybe there was this little thing that bothered Ryane Clowe -- he had gone 0-for-the-season, no goals in 28 games. That, in a sense, was the bottom line that got him traded.

The Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, native, did have some skeletons in the closet. Still, he was given a clean slate, when the San Jose Sharks, the only team Clowe has ever known, traded him to the New York Rangers for multiple draft picks before Wednesday's trade deadline.

When you spend eight seasons with the same team, you earn some marks for being a quality player. The 6-2, 225-pound left wing was known for the physical element he had provided the game. Twenty-four goals and 62 points was his career-best in 2010-11. But, he had been known to elevate his play for the playoffs.

There's the rub. There are those who believe that Ryane Clowe is more important at this time of the season.

Clowe admitted he considered switching sticks -- he was still carrying teal colored ones -- as you may remember which produced NO goals. But ...

He remembered what Rangers coach John Tortorella told him before the game: "Don't worry about any systems. Go out there and have fun."

OK. So ...

"I wanted to control the puck a little more than normal," Clowe said.

Clean slate. Fresh start. Big guy. Tough to handle in and around the net and in the traffic areas.

Lo and behold, Clowe turned in a playoff performance -- he scored two goals and one assist in a rousing 6-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ryane added five shots and four hits in 15 minutes and 22 seconds of ice time.

The real Ryane Clowe has finally appeared ... and all the Rangers had spent to get him was a second-round pick and a third-round pick (Florida's) in 2013 and a conditional second-round pick (if the free-agent re-signs with the Rangers) in 2014. The 30-year-old Clowe is expected to provide the combativeness the Rangers have missed since the departure of Brandon Prust, who signed with the Montreal Canadiens last summer as a free agent.

GM Glen Sather said. "He is a unique combination of size, skill and toughness. His strong leadership and character make him a tremendous addition to our organization on and off the ice."

Clowe learned about patience and hard work at an early age, when he began trolling the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean hauling shrimp and crab on his dad's fishing boat not far from their home in Newfoundland.

Troy Clowe was a great influence on his son, even if Ryane didn't always tell him that.

"I'd probably be a fisherman just like him, if I hadn't had this dream about playing hockey professionally," Clowe told me. "You know, long hours with no sleep when you're on the water.

"I'll never forget dad giving me the best advice a father could, after one of those many times I got cut from a team. I remember him telling me, 'Believe in your dream. Even if 50 people tell you that you're never going to make it to the NHL, you have to believe in your dream. Have fun, work hard and enjoy it. If you do that, you never know where you'll end up.' "

No this is no fish story.

Clowe was cut by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Moncton Wildcats as an 18-year-old. He played in a pickup league until he was offered a tryout by Rimouski of that same league midway through the season. That exposure with the team that previously had high draft picks Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards and was about to welcome Sidney Crosby, allowed Ryane the opportunity to get drafted.

This former sixth-round pick, 175th overall, in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, who was able to return for the final four games of the regular season -- he tore several ligaments in his knee -- now had a hand in seven of San Jose's 10 goals in the 2007-08 playoff series.

"It's been like adding an impact player after the trading deadline, something you weren't counting on," teammate Joe Thornton said of Clowe's amazing comeback.

"Clowie isn't a great skater, but he's powerful and has nice hands," said former Sharks coach Ron Wilson. "He's the perfect example of the kind of player you have to have at this time of the year -- one who plays with passion, doesn't want to lose any battle and never takes a shift off."

Still, it wasn't until Ryane turned 24 and Wilson put him on a line with Thornton and Patrick Marleau and he had 15 points in his last nine starts, including nine goals, that the big body really showed that the NHL was home for him.

But Clowe remained vigilant in his recovery, realizing he hadn't really proved his worth in the big leagues yet.

"I tried to be around the guys as much as possible, but the toughest part was not being out on the ice for so long," Clowe said. "When you can't skate and play, it's really tough. The guys keep saying this is like training camp for me now."

Training camp on the ice with the team began for Clowe on March 30.

"Even when it came to skating, the first couple of weeks on the ice, I couldn't turn, I couldn't stop," he said. "You just think, 'I don't know how long this is going to be.' I was happy to get four games in."

Now, after the trade to the Rangers, he's clearly in postseason form.

What makes Clowe so valuable is that he plays with a physical edge, spending most of his time in the heavy traffic areas along the boards and in front of the net. And he's not afraid to drop the gloves and stand up for a teammate.

You could say that Clowe's been fighting for recognition throughout his career.

"It was a 50-minute drive to the nearest arena, when I was growing up. But I'd be out there all day on the ponds once they froze," said Clowe. "I remember growing up a Montreal Canadiens fan. Brian Bellows was my favorite player, the way he would work hard in the offensive zone always looking to find the open spot and get off a quick shot the year he helped Montreal win the Stanley Cup in 1993. I also loved to watch Eric Lindros play his power game.

"I wasn't unlike so many other players who grew up in small towns in Canada, except that Fermeuse was a little smaller (only 500 people) with a little less exposure. My real dream was just to play hockey professionally. This is a bonus beyond belief."

Clowe says he's blown away at how close Newfoundlanders are. He knew that his folks and friends back home were staying up til 3:30 in the morning to watch the games and would often call or e-mail him afterward to chat about his performance.

"I've even got some buddies I grew up with in Newfoundland who have transplanted to Calgary and work out here now," Clowe laughed. "I've seen them in the stands among all of that Flames red. You wouldn't believe the number of buddies who have e-mailed me and told me that they took me in their fantasy draft playoff pools. They tell me how important it is that I keep scoring ... for them.

"Like there isn't enough pressure on me already after what I went through this season."

Clowe also will fit well into the rest of New York's sports scene. He is a huge baseball fan, mainly of the San Francisco Giants – before the recent World Series championships, he wanted to mention. But he also has been to Yankee Stadium several times and lists his dream dinner as a sit-down with Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin. Clowe said he's read biographies on all the Yankee legends and loves the game.
He doesn't consider himself a soon-to-be-free-agent. He'd like to earn a new contract with the Rangers.

"I'd love to be here, be a part of this and be here a while," he said. "Now, what happens? I'm not sure. And the next month is gonna be a sprint to the finish here, so I've got to make sure my game is where it needs to be.

"And I think if I'm playing at the top of my game, it'll help this team and we'll go from there."

Ryane Clowe sounds like he belongs in New York already.

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