may not be a household name across the United States sports world, but he is quickly gaining popularity in his native Newfoundland and is quickly taking a bigger place in the hearts of Bay Area sports fans.
Clowe, 25, is not a young pup by NHL standards, but it was only during the 2005-06 season that he reached the show. During the campaign, he spent more games with the San Jose’s American Hockey League affiliate than the big club. Last year, Clowe played in just one Sharks postseason contest.
“The average rookie is treading water,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson. “We all know what it’s like to get thrown in the deep end of the pool.”
Clowe may not have taken the direct route to the NHL, but that he had the tools was evident to many in the organization and now the fans are witnessing it first hand.
“I always thought he’d reach it (NHL),’ said Patrick Marleau
. “He has the skill, reach and he is a big body. He just took longer to come into his own. You like to see guys like that succeed.”
By “guys like that,” Marleau is referring to players who aren’t first round picks and are forced to toil in the minors before reaching their potential. For Clowe, that meant being cut from his junior club, them playing in the QMJHL as an overage player, then skating two complete AHL seasons before sniffing the NHL.
By comparison, the Sharks leading goal scorer from 2006-07 also used two full AHL campaigns to help him become an NHL regular.
“Some guys take a while, some are late bloomers,” said Jonathan Cheechoo. “If a kid wants it bad enough and works hard enough, anything is possible. Maybe he just needed time to grow into his body.”
Everything changed this year as Clowe played the entire campaign with Team Teal and, by Game 2 against Nashville, had doubled his career playoff game total.
Clowe’s six playoff games don’t make him a grizzled veteran, but he quietly ranked second in goals scored (3) for San Jose in Round 1. And while perceived as a fourth line forward, Clowe actually ranked sixth (15:07) among Sharks forwards in ice time in the quarterfinals.
“We don’t consider our guys the fourth line,” said Wilson. “I don’t say, ‘Fourth line get in there.’ Some night’s Marcel’s (Goc) line could be the first line. You have to look at ice time in key situations.”
Clowe’s confidence has been helped by Goc, his center.
“That line has chemistry between Marcel and Clowe,” said Wilson. “They seem to understand the game and play to their strengths exclusively.”
Clowe is more than just a regular part of the Sharks lineup, he has become a playoff force. Skill-wise, among his three first round goals was a game-winner in Game 3. In Game 2, he set the tone for the rest of the series when he responded to a Jordin Tootoo challenge and pummeled the Predators winger, showing the Sharks wouldn’t tolerate any cheap stuff.
“In the second game he stepped up and we needed that,” said Bill Guerin. “He plays physical and tough and answers the bell when he has to and it’s not just the fighting.”
“He had a stretch where in scored in nine of 12 games (in January),” said Cheechoo. “He showed a lot of versatility. He is so good on the puck down low. He makes their D work. He’s been a top point producer in the minors and you don’t just lose that.”
He has become one of the more respected players in the room. He may not be the most vocal Sharks player, but he is a case of actions speaking louder than words.
“I think when you look around the room and see Clowe, you know he’ll stick up for his teammates and himself,” said Marleau. “When Nashville was pressuring us, he made a big hit and settled things down. He keeps players honest and that is a guy you want on your team.”
Clowe was almost a point a game guy in the AHL and it appears he’s got that type of confidence.
“I think he’s found his place and his niche,” said Marleau. “Before he was worried about getting sent down.”
If the Sharks end up facing Detroit in Round 2, Clowe will face off with Detroit’s Daniel Cleary as the only two remaining Newfoundlanders in the NHL playoffs. It might bring a bit of extra attention to the NHL in the province, if that’s possible with hockey’s rabid following out there.
“They watch a lot of playoff hockey in general,” said Clowe. “It’s quite possible if we play Detroit (some media may attend).”
With the Sharks potentially playing in the Eastern time zone, the time difference will make a difference to Clowe’s friends and family, who actually watch from their own time zone that is 3 ½ hours ahead of the Pacific time zone.
“Some take naps to get up and watch the game,” said Clowe. “My mom takes pregame naps, too.”
Depending on the Dallas-Vancouver outcome, the Sharks, who finished Round 1 on Friday, may not play another game until Thursday. That is six days between contests.
“You prepare to play a six-or seven-game series,” said Wilson. “The sooner it is over, the more favorable to the winning side. Every team suffers injuries and illness and if you get a few days off, you take advantage.”
The Sharks won’t know their Round 2 opponent until the conclusion of the Dallas-Vancouver game tonight, but they are prepared either way.
If Dallas is victorious, they will travel to Anaheim for a Wednesday contest.
“We’ve battled them all year,” said Marleau. “They’re big and strong.”
And if Vancouver wins, the Sharks will be off to Detroit for a Thursday start.
“They have a lot of experience,” said Marleau. “Either way, we have to play our game.”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Wilson of the opponent. “The only thing that matters is whether we start Wednesday or Thursday. Obviously with Detroit, there is more travel, but with that schedule, there are more breaks in the travel. Beyond that, the focus is on the game we play.”