I remember seeing Ryane Clowe
stumble around the corridor outside the San Jose Sharks’ dressing room with a cane and a noticeable limp, the remnants of an injury in which he tore several ligaments in his right knee while trying to finish a check in a game at Columbus on Oct. 27.
Lost season? That's what the 6-foot-2, 225-pound power forward wondered after just 11 games. Doctors couldn't promise Clowe he could recover in time to save any of the 2007-08 season.
Now, here he is, big body, hard to move in front of the net, and oh-so-tough when he decides to lean on an opponent.Ryane Clowe
scored his fourth goal of the series and helped set up Joe Thornton
's tip-in goal with just 7.3 seconds left to give the Sharks a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames April 15 to even the teams’ first-round series at two games apiece. He's easily been San Jose's best player in the playoffs so far.
Clowe returned for the final four games of the regular season, and now he’s had a hand in seven of San Jose's 10 goals in the series.
"It's been like adding an impact player after the trading deadline, something you weren't counting on," Thornton said of Clowe's amazing comeback.
"Clowie isn't a great skater, but he's powerful and has nice hands," said 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."
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 father's fishing boat not far from their home in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland.
Tony 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 said. "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 led to Clowe being drafted by the Sharks in the sixth round (No. 175 overall) of the 2001 Entry Draft.
Still, it wasn't until Clowe turned 24 late last season and Wilson put him on a line with Thornton and captain Patrick Marleau
that he had 15 points in his last nine starts, including nine goals, and he showed the NHL was home for him. He added four goals in 11 playoff games last spring, and Wilson had him penciled in on one of his top two lines for this season.
Clowe had six points in the first 11 games this season, before the collision with Columbus defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and the debilitating knee injury. He further compounded his woes by getting arrested for suspicion of drunk driving Dec. 24.
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, 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 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," Clowe said. "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. - Ryane Clowe
"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 to 3:30 a.m. to watch the games and 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 hasn't shown any jitters. In fact, he's played with the poise, patience and work ethic of a veteran of a dozen playoff battles, instead of just one.
That Clowe would steal the show for the Sharks in the playoffs may be a surprise to most. But his whole career could be viewed by some as one big fish story that turned real.
Author: Larry Wigge | NHL.com Columnist