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Nashville’s Rich Clune opens up about alcoholism, sobriety in NHL

Greg Wyshynski
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Nashville Predators forward Rich Clune (16) fights with Washington Capitals defenseman Patrick Wey (56) in the first period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn
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Nashville Predators forward Rich Clune (16) fights with Washington Capitals defenseman Patrick Wey (56) in the first period of an NHL hockey game on Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Rich Clune of the Nashville Predators has a simple message he wants to convey to fans, players and everyone involved in the sport of hockey: 

“I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. And my life is amazing.”

Clune is a recovering alcoholic. It’s a fact he first revealed to ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside in a 2013 article, becoming one of the few NHL players to admit to his demons while still competing in the League. “I’m a recovering alcoholic. That’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to admit,” said Clune.

The Predators forward recently published a 30-minute confessional on Instaradio, a new self-publishing radio app. Some of it rehashed his journey to sobriety, and some of it chronicled his life after the ESPN piece brought him increased attention.

Why open up to the media last year?

“I wanted to take the power out of everyone’s hands that were wondering, with rumors and Internet stuff. Just say ‘this is what happened, this is what I’ve done about it’ and take the power back,” he said.

But there was also the chance to become a role model for others – even if Clune never thought he’d earn the label.

“If you had told me five years ago that I’d be anyone’s role model, I’d think you were smoking crack yourself,” he said.

“There is a bit of a stage in the NHL. At some point, I don’t mind becoming a role model for people. I don’t know how to do it. I’m kind of winging it.”

Clune took his first drink at 13. He was drunk the day he was drafted, at No. 71 overall by the Dallas Stars. His drinking while within the Los Angeles Kings organization cost him a chance to skate with the Stanley Cup champions, something Clune still regrets. It got so bad that his teammates shunned him; eventually, Clune had enough people in his life telling him that his drinking was ruining him. He went into treatment as an in-patient and then as a twice-a-week outpatient.

“I respect when people say they had a spiritual awakening, but for me I had people intervening for me and me being sick and tired of [expletiving] my life up,” he said. “I want to live the best life possible, and that’s it.”

Then-Kings assistant GM Ron Hextall told Clune he’d find another shot in the NHL, and that opportunity came as an energy winger for the Nashville Predators.

Is his sobriety ever an issue, considering the NHL lifestyle?

“People on your team, they are going to drink. I love the fact that my teammates still party, and they accept me for my decision not to drink. I’ve stayed up later than some guys on our team sober, and danced longer than them,” he said.

But not every player takes his path. A recent tragedy in the hockey world hit Clune hard: The suicide of Terry Trafford, a center for the Saginaw Spirit who committed suicide after being cut by the team for his drug use.

“It really struck a chord with me. I’ve been there,” said Clune.

“Alcohol saved me for a long time. Maybe if I didn’t find alcohol, I would have not made it. I medicated with alcohol for many years, but then it stopped working. And when it stops working, you either continue to do it and die slowly or make a decision like I did to get sober.”

The Clune Show is worth a listen, to hear the hope in his voice and the regret for his mistakes. Maybe a fourth liner piling up penalty minutes isn’t the first place you’d look for a role model, but Clune appears ready to be one to anyone that needs help.

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