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Dissecting The Hit

by Todd Smith / Minnesota Wild

Cal Clutterbuck has always been a hitter. Ever since his days playing youth hockey in Toronto, Clutterbuck has taken a shine (or bruise) to body checking. Clutterbuck was such a natural born hitter, in fact, that he actually knocked out the very first kid he ever hit.

“We were playing in an exhibition tournament against some American teams,” Clutterbuck said, as he recollected his genesis into becoming one of the NHL’s fiercest hitters. “The American kids hadn’t started hitting yet, and I lit this kid up pretty good. He was down on the ice for awhile.”
From an early age, there was a fuselage of desire burning inside of Clutterbuck that made him seek out constant confrontation on the ice rink. So it came as no surprise that a decade later in his rookie year in the NHL, Clutterbuck exploded onto the ice like buckshot and eventually set a league record with hits (356) in a single season. Over the course of his short professional career, Clutterbuck has developed into one of the game’s elite agitators and all-purpose pot stirrers. His tremendous growth as a player can be traced directly back to his childhood, to that moment in the exhibition tournament in some nondescript ice rink, with his bleary eyed mom and dad huddled in the bleachers, cupping hot cocoa and hanging encouragement in the frosty air like ornaments on a tree, that an NHL hitter was born.

“They eventually had to carry the kid off the ice,” Clutterbuck said. “I guess you could say I started early.”

For Cal Clutterbuck, the current 2009-2010 Wild season is no different than any other hockey season that had preceded it. He is a hitter for life. And he will hit. And hit. Propelled by guts and speed, he continues to spray checks all over the rink. To get a closer look into this whirling dervish, Clutterbuck sat down with to dissect a pair of Clutterbuck hits to take fans inside the helmet of one of the games purest hitters.

Both hits took place in a November 18 home game against James Vandermeer, and are featured in the video at the top of the page. The first was not a direct hit. The second, well, we’ll let Clutterbuck describe it.

Hit One: 

00:00- Forecheck

On the forecheck, Clutterbuck is inconspicuously positioned between the hash marks near the top of the faceoff circles. A Phoenix defenseman has the puck in the far corner, but is feeling pressure from a Minnesota forward.

“This is where the hit starts,” Clutterbuck says, “When the far D-man has the puck. I’m anticipating the puck coming across to the other D-man. I try to generate as much speed as I can towards the guy without the puck.”

00:01- Commitment

Clutterbuck’s anticipation is right on. The puck does indeed slide across to Phoenix defenseman Vandermeer. Clutterbuck is going full speed, but then begins to coast. He bends his legs, squares up and gets into a hitter’s crouch. In poker terms, this would be his “tell” sign.
“As soon as my leg plants, I’m not going to take any more strides,” Clutterbuck says. “When guys change directions on you, you want to be able to go either way.”

00:02 Impact

Clutterbuck drills Vandermeer into the boards.
“This is the best type of hit,” Cal says, “When you squish a guy against the boards.”

00:03 The Bounce Back Effect

 Just after impact, Clutterbuck flails as he falls to the ice. Vandermeer appears to be unscathed. From the crash of the glass and sideboards, it seems Clutterbuck missed him.

“I actually got him pretty good,” Cal says, “It’s the bounce back effect that you are seeing. I hit him and the energy goes right through to the boards. The boards absorb the hit and the energy comes back. That’s why I fell.”
00:05 Smack Talk

Vandermeer takes exception to being hit. He turns towards Clutterbuck and utters those two classic hockey words, “Let’s Go.”  Clutterbuck doesn’t take the bait.

“I told him that I was going to be running him all night,” Clutterbuck says laughing.

Second Hit

00:08 Forecheck

Later in the game, as Vandermeer circles around his own net, Clutterbuck lurks in the wings out of sight.  Within seconds, though, he has honed in on Vandermeer.

“If I go in with my stick, I might miss him, and I don’t like to do that. So I decided to knock him over,” Cal offers nonchalantly, as if bowling over 220 pound NHL defenseman in a routine part of everyone’s job.

00:10 Commitment

After jawing with Vandermeer in the first period, Clutterbuck does indeed process the fact that it is Vandermeer who is now once again in his crosshairs. 
“Sometimes, yeah, we look at the jersey number,” Clutterbuck reveals.
Over the course of an NHL game or series or even a season, the one-on-one battles that occur between two players can become a contest of their own.  A rivalry that builds between two players is usually a direct result of their constant interaction. This is exactly what happened between Clutterbuck and Vandermeer in this game.
“A lot of times you’re always playing against the same guys,” he says. “And you almost always play against the same D pairing.”
 00:11 Impact

Vandermeer does not see Clutterbuck until it is too late. Clutterbuck delivers on his first period promise:  He runs into Vandermeer once again at full throttle. Vandermeer thuds to the ice like a man who has hit a mailbox.
“I’m heavy, but not tall.  A lot of my strength comes from my legs,” Clutterbuck says, referring to his low center of gravity. “It’s also about being rigid at the right time.”  The huge hit separates Vandermeer from the puck and he is unable to clear. As Vandermeer crumbles to the ice, Clutterbuck scoops up the puck and dishes it out to the point. His efforts lead directly to an outstanding power play opportunity for the Wild.

So what if it’s not a guy like Vandermeer on the other team, but someone Cal is close to. What if it’s his Dad? Does he light him up if given the chance?

“Yeah, probably,” he says, as he lets out a hearty laugh. “There are no friends on the other team.”

Spoken like a true hitter. 
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