Clowe’s Concussions Cutting Short Popular Career

A Tough Guy Who Could Score

(Photo by Dinur/Flickr)
(Photo by Dinur/Flickr)

Ryane Clowe was a sixth round draft pick (175th overall) back in 2001. Currently with the New Jersey Devils, the Newfoundland native was a long shot to make it to the NHL but the power forward worked his way up to enjoy a solid career. Unfortunately, because of concussions, that career looks to have been cut far too short.

Depending on how you like to look at games played, Clowe is either an eight or nine year NHL veteran who spent most of that time with his original franchise. The San Jose Sharks drafted him nearly 15 years ago as an 18-year-old kid out of the far east reaches of Canada. Unlike a lot of well known NHL stars, Clowe put in his dues in the minors. The left winger played 181 games at the AHL level from 2003-2005 where he amassed 51 goals and 94 assists for 145 points. He also racked up 233 penalty minutes.

As a power forward, all those sin bin penalties weren’t just ticky tacky hooking and holding minors. Clowe was a big time fighter. He was one of the toughest customers in the league, but far from a goon without any skill. Clowe was well liked because not only would he fight anyone on the ice (was talented enough to entice Jarome Iginla to drop the gloves), he could score quite a bit too. Below was a well executed 360 back hand shot. Not many fighters can score on the back-hand like that.


Three 50 Point Seasons as a Shark

As a 24-year-old rookie Clowe enjoyed a solid rookie year during the 2006-07 season scoring 16 goals and finishing with 34 points in 58 games. He would suffer a serious knee injury which forced him to miss almost the entirety of the following season but starting in 2008-09, Clowe enjoyed back-to-back-to-back career seasons. The rugged winger posted 52 points in 08-09, then 57 in 2009-10, and 62 points in 2010-11 on a line with Calder Trophy candidate Logan Couture.

Clowe and Couture enjoyed quite a bit of success together until Clowe was traded right before the trade deadline in 2013. Clowe was the ideal big bodied body guard who was able to create time and space for the smaller Couture. Unfortunately all good things come to an end, and a much quicker end for fighters.

Traded But Far From Forgotten

Clowe signed a 5-year contract with the Devils on July 5 (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)
Clowe with the Rangers(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Everyone around San Jose understood why Clowe was traded in 2013. Bound for a hefty UFA contract but with declining numbers in 2011-12 and 2013 meant the Clowe trade was widely accepted without much backlash. Injuries were starting to catch up to the veteran and the Sharks got quality draft picks back for Clowe and fellow veterans Douglas Murray and Michal Handzus prior to the 2013 deadline.

While most Sharks followers understood the Clowe trade, the lack of backlash didn’t mean Clowe hasn’t been missed. In fact, Clowe (in his prime) is the type of player San Jose could really use right about now. In recent years the Sharks have tried to replace his toughness with guys like Adam Burish, Mike Brown, and John Scott. Nowhere near the same type of players. Certainly not ones with the stature to back up critical comments like Clowe. For a period of time Clowe was an alternate captain with the Sharks and during January of 2011 he went off after a loss to Vancouver.

“We just want to cheat at times” he said in his post-game interview with reporters. “That’s how it is. They’re not afraid to play a sound defensive game. They’ll stick too it. We have guys that want to do it occasionally. Not all the time though because that’s hard work. And when you work hard, you feel it after a game. I guarantee you there’s guys who don’t feel that tired after that game. Do you want to score four goals or do you want to win a game? Are you happy losing but with five goals? Losing 6-5 maybe or would you rather, like in LA, win 1-0? Are guys happy then? Maybe they want to score goals and get points. I don’t know.”

In the same rant Clowe took personal responsibility for the game-winning goal and didn’t back down from his comments in the days that followed. At the time, the Sharks had one dimensional forwards like Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, two likely candidates for Clowe’s outrage.

Teammate Favorite, Fan Favorite, Media Favorite

(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
(Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

In recent years the Sharks haven’t had any similar outbursts but there have been far more rumors of locker room discontent. While some originally thought Clowe’s comments were going to divide the dressing room, those Sharks teams seemed much more unified than the current one. Perhaps having an alpha dog enforcer who could back up his mouth with offensive production was key to whipping under performing teammates into shape?

Clowe was a fan favorite, a media favorite, and an all around good guy. Critical and harsh at times but honest. Media appreciated his willingness to talk and analyze the positives and negatives after any game a bit more in depth than most players. Talking with him in person you might describe his voice/tone as “soft spoken” but he is a full on chatter box, as you can see in this Q and A session with colleague Dan Rice. Between teammates, fans, and the media, Clowe was one of the more popular figures in the entire league. Rangers and Devils fans unfortunately didn’t get to see much of him, but Sharks fans will tell you he was one of the best guys to have on your team.

It is extremely disappointing to hear that concussions look to have forced Clowe into early retirement. All those AHL games dropping the gloves plus 618 NHL penalty minutes haven taken a toll on the body, not to mention all the other bumps and bruises from playing the game. It truly is sad, because Clowe was such a well-liked guy. It is had to overstate how great he was for the Sharks. We hear all the time about how enforcer types are always popular in the room, but enforcers who can score? Times that popularity by 10.

Future NHL Head Coach?

Oh god, why?(Photo Courtesy Bridget Samuels, Creative Commons)
Oh god, why?(Photo Courtesy Bridget Samuels, Creative Commons)

While Clowe’s playing career is coming to an end, it certainly won’t be the last we see of #29. During the most recent lockout Clowe stuck around the Bay Area to practice with the now defunct ECHL San Francisco Bulls. Instead of playing though and risking injury, Clowe decided to suit up in formal attire and help coach behind the bench. During his time behind the bench Clowe was non committal about whether he would want to coach full time down the line but methinks we will see him in that role in the near future.

At just 32-years-old, Clowe could work his way up the coaching ranks and become a head coach in one of the bigger junior or minor leagues quickly. Perhaps finding his way behind an NHL bench in this early 40’s if that is the next route he chooses. He has the ideal attributes of being laid back and analytical of the game but he can also blow a gasket when the situation calls for it. He would be like the Incredible Hulk of NHL coaches. Young players might not want to draw his anger and find out what “Code Clowe” is all about.

In all seriousness, just watch the Day in the Life videos with Clowe, they paint a better picture that I can, I’ll leave you readers with the first segment below: