HOCKEY: Wild's hit man Clutterbuck throws himself into scoring

PITTSBURGH -- Few NHL teams sell more jerseys than the Minnesota Wild, and few Wild fans prefer a jersey other than the one worn by Cal Clutterbuck. His No. 22 has been the team's best-selling sweater since he earned a permanent NHL job in 2008-09.

Clutterbuck gets congrats after 2009 goal
Minnesota Wild's Stephane Veilleux (19), Nick Schultz (top left) Eric Belanger (top right) and Kim Johnsson (5), of Sweden, surround teammate Cal Clutterbuck (center) after he scored a goal against the Calgary Flames during the first period of an NHL Hockey game Friday, April 3, 2009, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid)

PITTSBURGH -- Few NHL teams sell more jerseys than the Minnesota Wild, and few Wild fans prefer a jersey other than the one worn by Cal Clutterbuck. His No. 22 has been the team's best-selling sweater since he earned a permanent NHL job in 2008-09.

Certainly those hits are a factor; he has led the league in his two full NHL seasons, and leads the league again this season by a wide margin. But it's more than that.

Minnesotans are pretty savvy about their hockey, and they clearly see - and appreciate - that Clutterbuck is a player who simply doesn't take a night off. It's why his 186 hits in 39 games are best in the NHL, leading perpetual runner-up Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings by more than one a game, but it's also why he is tied with Brent Burns for the team lead with 12 goals.

He works at it.

"You have to work at it, because there's not much time to set it up," Clutterbuck said after scoring the winning goal in a 3-1 victory at Boston on Thursday night, the Wild's third straight road victory.


In a furious, end-to-end game, the score was tied when Clutterbuck intercepted Marc Savard's attempted clearing pass and quickly fired a wrist shot from the left circle that beat Tuukka Rask high.

"I think I'm more calm when I get an opportunity to shoot the puck," he explained.

It was Clutterbuck's second straight unassisted goal -- he picked Ilya Kovalchuk for the opening score in a 2-1 victory at New Jersey on Tuesday --

and his third game-winning goal of the season. His penchant for big goals was also on display Dec, 27 in Columbus, when he tied the score late after the Wild coughed up a third-period lead.

That started the Wild's current 4-0-1 road streak.

"I think I'm getting a little more dialed in," he said. "I spend a lot of time shooting pucks, just kind of horsing around, picking this corner, that corner, trying to get it at the net from any spot on the ice."

OK, but it's not horsing around. Clutterbuck, 23, is serious about his job.

"These are things you start to expect out of Cal when he gets into shooting positions," coach Todd Richards said.


Called up from Houston early in 2008-09 to help the Wild cope with Marian Gaborik's eternal groin injury, Clutterbuck was seen as the prototypical "energy guy," a third- or fourth-liner who can change momentum not with his stick but his grit.

But the third-round pick quickly stuck out by landing hits en route to leading the league that season with an NHL-record 356 in 78 games. Then-coach Jacques Lemaire was immediately impressed with Clutterbuck's wrist shot, its speed and the quickness with which the winger unleashed it, and predicted he would be a legitimate NHL scorer.

Fortunately for Minnesota, the hits and the scoring chances seem to go hand in hand. Without the bang, Clutterbuck said, there would be no buck.

"It gets me in the right spot," he said. "When you're not hitting, when you're not physical, you find yourself turning and twisting, and it just seems you're never in the right position when those bounces come your way -- a foot this way, a foot that way.

"So when you play the game honestly like that, I think you end up being in the right spot, just because of the hit and the space you've created for yourself."

And not just for himself. With a reputation that precedes him, he's able to influence games by simply being on the ice, Richards said.

"I think it's sometimes the defenseman thinking, 'OK, here comes Clutterbuck.' And he makes a quicker decision than he probably wants to," the coach said. "It ends up as a turnover, and we get the puck in the zone."

The best players recognize that hockey is a series of connected events, an ecosystem in which every pass, hit or decision can change a game. Every coach preaches it, and the best teams -- and players -- thrive on it.


"Ten seconds later, there might be an opportunity because a D man threw a puck off the wall that one of my linemates picked off, and away we go," Clutterbuck said. "You have to kind of look at the big picture."

Right now, the Wild's big picture is a good one, on and off the ice -- 7-2-1 in their past 10 games, a four-spot leap in the Western Conference standings and one point out of a playoff spot. There is no doubt Clutterbuck has been a major factor.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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