April 03, 2009
When you're blessed with one of the single greatest hockey names since Jeff Beukeboom hung up his skates, what's the point of a nickname?
"Any variation of ‘Clut,'" he said in an interview yesterday.
Clutterbuck was thrust into the NHL spotlight earlier this season when he was given another nickname: "Buttercup," by "Hockey Night in Canada" curmudgeon Don Cherry, who criticized Clutterbuck's fighting with a visor on. Undaunted, the Minnesota rookie hit back and defended himself.
But hitting is what Clutterbuck does best, and more frequently than anyone in NHL history when it comes to a single season. The 21-year-old winger from Welland, Ontario set a League record for hits recorded in a season with 317.
In a wide-ranging conversation, we talked about that record, and which player in NHL history he'd most like to hit; what it's like to punch Sean Avery of the New York Rangers; Cherry's comments and his response; the pressure of the playoff race; the fan campaign to get him considered for rookie of the year; as well as the usual questions about cars, cards and booze. Enjoy.
Q. Mentally, how do you deal with being in a playoff race with, like, six other teams for the last month? Are you scoreboard watching?
CLUTTERBUCK: I got The Hockey News application on my Blackberry and scroll through it every hour or so.
I think you just have to come to grips with the fact that you can really only control what you can control. As long as you're giving it everything you've got, then you've got nothing to regret at the end.
There's always a perception about the Wild as the Jacques Lemaire/trap team, and some fans are just turned off by the idea of you guys making the playoffs. Do you ever get the vibe that people outside of the Wild fan base are rooting against you because of that?
I'm not sure that I can feel people rooting against us. Not anymore than the boos and jeers a visiting team would get in any building. As far as I'm concerned, I don't think it's as big an issue as people might think.
Honestly now: Did you think Marian Gaborik would ever play again this season?
I really didn't have any idea. The whole thing was pretty quiet, which is how it should be. He was able to work pretty hard, and had a pretty good doctor, from what I hear, operating on him. He's feeling pretty good now, I guess, and I'm happy for him. He's definitely helping us out when we need it most.
Are you careful around him in the locker room? You know, not bumping into him or anything?
[Laughs] I don't think he's that fragile.
You really came onto our radar screen when fans started that whole "Cal for the Calder" thing. When did you become aware of it, and how did the campaign make you feel?
The first time I heard about it was when [Wild defenseman] Kurtis Foster was down in Houston to do his conditioning after coming back from his femur injury. A couple of fans down there gave him some buttons to bring home with him, and he showed up with these buttons and gave them to me.
I looked it up on the Internet, and found a couple of blogs and stuff that had this mini-campaign going. I thought it was pretty cool.
Yeah, probably not. I don't think there was any point where I thought that was going to happen.
That's because they look at glamour stats instead of cool stuff like "hits." You broke the NHL record for hits this season; were you aware of how close you were to setting it?
Coming up to it, I just didn't want to change anything. I figured if I changed something ... you run the risk of getting hurt if you go out of your way to hit guys and stuff like that. I just wanted to keep on the same pace I was going, and I figured if I did that then it would come.
It's kind of a weird record, because it's so subjective from arena to arena. Did you ever look at the score-sheet and be like, ‘This is crazy. I didn't have this many hits in this game'?
It happens sometimes, especially earlier in the season. Now I've been on the radar with a couple people and you get a little more credit for the hits that you have. A lot of times, I'm hitting guys after they release the puck or hitting a D-man after they make an outlet pass. So it's not something that people are really looking for; they're looking for the hit where the guy is skating up the ice with his head down and he gets buried.
Over the course of time, people have taken notice. But there's still some buildings that are [inconsistent], where I'll feel like I had eight or nine hits and the score sheet says I had two. It's not like they're out to get me; it happens to everybody, too.
If you could lay a solid check on anybody in NHL history, who would it be?
[Much contemplative thought] That's a good question. Probably Claude Lemieux.
[Laughs] But you wear No. 22! Isn't that a Claude tribute?
Not really. That's the number that was given to me. But it's grown on me.
Speaking of complete pains-in-the-ass, what was it like to fight Sean Avery?
Oh, it was interesting. He kind of initiated it. I didn't really want to go looking for it, because a guy like that ... I know what it's like to have guys come after me and fight me. If he wanted to, I was ready. He ended up besting me, too; I was ready, and it was a lot of fun. Fight went well, it was on Versus, it was at MSG. It was a good experience.
When you're fighting a dude like that, are you ever worried that he's going to pull some sort of professional wrestling trickery, like putting on the brass knuckles or throwing dust in your eyes like Mr. Fuji?
[Laughs] No, I never really worried about it. Maybe I should.
We do have to address the Don Cherry stuff, where he criticized you for fighting with a visor and claimed it was cowardly. You shot back in a defensive way. Were you more upset about the accuracy of his claims, or the fact that he called you Cal "Buttercup"?
I was upset about the accuracy of what he was saying. I don't think it was justified. Even if it was, I'm not the only guy doing it, so why is he calling me out, you know?
It happened that way because I had just fought against [the Toronto Maple Leafs], and we ended up beating Toronto pretty handily. The game didn't go so well for them, and he was maybe just looking for something to talk about.
At the same time, is it sort of like getting called out by Don Rickles in a comedy club? Like you've been called out by the grand old insult comic of the NHL? Is there a certain amount of honor in getting called out by Don Cherry?
Yeah, I guess. A lot of my friends back home were saying that it was pretty cool that I got on there. Any publicity is good publicity I guess, right?
Here's the real question: If someone presented you with a "No. 22 Buttercup" Minnesota jersey, would you sign it?
Yeah I would, for sure. I'd probably sign it "Buttercup" for'em, if they're going to be funny like that.
As rookie, has there been anything that's shocked you about the NHL experience?
No, not really. The biggest thing that surprised me is that even though these guys are NHL hockey players, they're just normal people. It's the same as any other group, any other team.
You're kind of a gritty player. What's it like sharing a locker room with Owen Nolan, who's doing what he's doing at 67 year old?
[Laughs] They call him "Cowboy" because he's old and rough and tumble. He's a great guy to have around, and he's having a great year for us. I can't say enough good things about him.
Do you think with younger players like yourself and Ryan Kesler with the Vancouver Canucks, that there's a generation of players bringing back the "sandpaper" and "gritty" aesthetic that guys like Nolan exhibited for years?
I think so. I think a lot of guys are realizing through their junior careers that in order to be able to make it and be successful, you gotta bring something that a lot of other guys can't bring. So I think you find a lot of kids that are trying to stand out, be different, get noticed. As they mature, their offensive game improves and the next thing you know you got a player, you know?
What the life like out in Minnesota? Do you get recognized?
A lot of places, I'm starting to. A couple picture requests when I have a mouthful of food and stuff. But other than that, people just want to chat. Sometimes you're in a bit of a hurry, and trying to just walk and talk, and the next thing you know you're standing next to your car at the mall and you got a fan still telling you a story about their grandson or their nephew or something. But it's a lot of fun.
What's your cuisine of choice when you dine out?
I'm not fussy, that's the main thing. Last couple of years, I've picked up on the sushi thing pretty hard.
Are you a wussy about sushi and stick to the California Roll, or are you adventurous and eating the Unagi?
Oh no, I'm adventurous. Couple of slices of eel on top, yeah.
What's on your iPod these days?
A lot of 90s alternative acoustic music. Smashing Pumpkins unplugged, stuff like that.
What are you driving these days?
I have an Escalade, 2008. Maroon.
Didn't go with the black? What kind of athlete are you?
What kind of athlete am I? [Laughing] An all-around athlete.
Your adult beverage of choice, sir?
I would probably have to say a cold Canadian Coors Light. They just taste different. And it needs to be in a glass bottle.
Rate yourself as a card player.
Overall card player, or poker specifically?
Poker specifically. We don't really care about your skills at Old Maid.
I'm probably a 7 and a half out of 10. I think if I got a little more aggressive, a little more experienced, I could jump up to an eight. It's knowing the odds, playing the hands I have the best chance of winning with. I'm more of a patient player, actually.
Finally, what do you like most about hockey?
It's just a unique game. The history of it, the people who support it. Growing up in Canada, there's no other way. I just knew from the first time I played it, I knew it was awesome.