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New York Islanders

Cal Clutterbuck Has Let His Toughness Do The Talking For 1,000 Games



AP Photo/Paul Sancya

East Meadow, NY– As the New York Islanders take the ice later tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers, it’ll mark the thousandth time Cal Clutterbuck will skate in an NHL game.

The milestone is no small feat and feels far removed from a moment of self-doubt Clutterbuck had while working his way through the ranks of the Canadian junior hockey system as a young prospect.

One night, Clutterbuck told his father, Tim, he wasn’t sure if he was cut out for hockey.

“I was like, ‘I’m not sure I can do this,’ Clutterbuck said. “Things weren’t going well. I was a little homesick and wasn’t playing very much. He talked me off the ledge. I kept going, things got better and I got tougher.”

Fittingly, Clutterbuck has forged his career out of toughness. His 3,798 hits are the most all-time since the NHL began tracking the stat in 2007.

“He’s probably the best checking forward ever,” Hudson Fasching said. “He leads the NHL in hits every year. It’s impressive the way he’s been able to do that. It’s not easy in today’s game to carve the role out and have an impact every night.”

Eventually, though, Clutterbuck’s hits began to have more of an effect on him than on opponents. In recent years, he’s undergone operations on both his back and shoulder.

“It takes more mental strength than it does physical,” Clutterbuck said. “The injuries can take a toll on you mentally. The seasons can be long and don’t always go the way you want them to.”

It makes sense, then, that Clutterbuck’s mind is still as sharp as ever despite his aging body. A calculated player, rarely does he ever make a mistake that costs the team.

“He knows where he needs to be at all times, and he takes a lot of pride in the way he plays,” Casey Cizikas said. “His hockey IQ allows him to be in the right spot at the right time and read the play every single time.”

Along with Matt Martin, Clutterbuck and Cizikas have made up the Islanders’ revered fourth line ever since Clutterbuck came over to the team from the Minnesota Wild a decade ago.

We had the same vision of the game, and everything kind of clicked,” Cizikas said. “We were able to build off of that right from the start. There weren’t too many questions on where we should be or what we had to do.”

An added benefit of Clutterbuck’s intelligence is his quick wit, which allows him to fill a role that’s becoming increasingly rare across the league as an agitator.

“He’s definitely a guy that other teams are concerned about on the ice,” Fasching said. “He’s earned a lot of respect throughout his career for what he’s done. It’s hard to find a guy that’s more respected around the league. That adds a lot to backing up his chirps. What are you really going to say to him at the end of the day?

The passion with which every chirp comes out, I think, is the best part. The vigor behind it is always impressive. There’s never a chirp that comes out half-heartedly.”

During the Islanders’ recent four-game road trip, Clutterbuck had another moment, but this time it was of self-reflection, looking back and the career he’s made for himself.

In the final year of his current contract, the newly turned 36-year-old knows he’s much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

At the same time, he knows he has nothing left to prove.

You don’t spend 18 years in pro sports without enduring your share of adversity,” Clutterbuck said. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is the mantra, and you just learn how to keep on keeping on.”




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