Clutterbuck's a hit in Minnesota
Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck's status as an NHL hits leader has been questioned
The mouthy pest with the Snidely Whiplash mustache is a master of the needle
Ironically, Clutterbuck's hero is Colorado's classy former captain Joe Sakic
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- What, you think Cal Clutterbuck hasn't heard the variation on his last name, the one you really want to call him? You think you're the first person to have thought of it, or even more laughably, that it's going to hurt his feelings?
Well, it's going to have all the hurtful impact of telling a Minnesotan to go jump in a lake.
"I've heard it all," said Clutterbuck, the 23-year-old winger who as of Friday led the Minnesota Wild in goals (13), all NHL players in hits (204), and the hockey universe in I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I's (infinite). "You could probably write a dictionary on the variations of my last name. I learned a long time ago to let those glance off."
In the process, Clutterbuck is finally helping make the Wild more Steppenwolf-esque instead of the laid-back, Cat Stevens variety of the previous two seasons. With his Snidely Whiplash mustache (having only grown in since November, it's more muss than 'stache at this point but nonetheless has its own Twitter feed) and name out a Charlie Chaplin-era silent film, Clutterbuck is deliciously Good Cal/Bad Cal for NHL fans.
In St. Paul and the surrounding 10,000 lakes, where he is Good Cal, Clutterbuck's No. 22 sweater is No. 1 in sales among all Wild players, according to team media relations director Bill Robertson. This is on a team with three players -- Martin Havlat, Mikko Koivu and Niklas Backstrom -- who are making in excess of $5 million a year while Clutterbuck is set to make $1.4 million this season and during the next two. Clutterbuck, Robertson says, probably leads the team in charitable community appearances and other good works as well.
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But in 29 other NHL cities, fans would just as soon be on the No-Cal diet.
"Who?" Colorado Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson virtually spits, when asked about Clutterbuck. "What team does he play for?"
These, and other insults, are proverbial water off a Clutterbuck's back.
"The more teams want to talk to me and get me involved, the better it is for me and the team," says Clutterbuck, a native of Welland, Ontario, whose baseball-loving parents, Tim and Jocelyn, named him after Cal Ripken Jr. "Even if you ignore me, I'm still going to do what I'm going to do, regardless of the situation."
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What Clutterbuck does, his critics say, is pad his hit total with late, theatrical runs at opponents well after they've delivered the puck. In Minnesota, some out-of-town players snicker, Clutterbuck has been given more undeserved hits than Lady Gaga.
For example, in a Jan. 9 game at Xcel Energy Center, in-house stat keepers gave Clutterbuck credit for nine hits in a 4-0 loss to Dallas, while the rest of the Wild got credit for a combined total of 10. The night before, a 4-0 Wild win in Pittsburgh, Clutterbuck was credited with just two while eight other Wild players officially had more. In a Jan. 11 game in Nashville, against a team known for its physical style, Clutterbuck again received credit for just two hits. On Dec. 16 against Ottawa at home, he got seven while no other Wild got as many as four. And so on.
Clutterbuck shattered Dustin Brown's NHL record of 311 hits with 356 during his rookie season of 2008-09, and appears on pace to top his own mark again. Officially, a hit is supposed to be one that "separates" the puck from the carrier, but Clutterbuck's critics say too many of the pucks in question had already sailed by the time he arrived.
"They can say what they want," he says. "I like to play a physical game and I think I play one no matter what anyone says."
Clutterbuck probably gets a rise out of more opponents with his mouth than his checks. Every last one of his verbal fusillades can't be repeated in this forum, but suffice it to say that they often rhyme with part of his last name. He would be Bruce Boudreau's kind of player, in other words.
"You have to be quick with the comebacks, or whatever happens," Clutterbuck says, with almost a Yoda-to-Luke come hither-ishness. "The quick comeback is the key. That gets them off their game."
One of hockey's all-time greatest villains, Claude Lemieux (who also wore No. 22), knew no bounds of verbal impropriety on the ice if it meant giving an edge to his team. Lemieux once got L.A. Kings star Charlie Simmer mentally off his game by describing an imagined carnal act with Simmer's then-wife, a Playboy Bunny. Lemieux is also the one who went up to Cam Neely and asked of his cameo appearance in a hit film, "Which one were you, Dumb or Dumber?"
(Lemieux, it should be pointed out, also once asked former Canadiens captain Eric Desjardins whether the 'C' on his uniform stood for "Selfish?")
In a final ironic twist, Clutterbuck says that his all-time hockey idol is longtime Quebec-Colorado captain Joe Sakic -- who was the anti-Clutterbuck on the ice. Clutterbuck got to play against him just once, in his first career NHL game no less.
Did he talk trash to his hero?
"Oh, no," he says sheepishly. "Besides, if I had anywhere near his talent, I wouldn't have to talk so much out there."
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