One-on-One With Cal Clutterbuck

At this year's 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the New York Islanders traded Nino Niederreiter, one of their top prospects, to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a draft pick and Cal Clutterbuck; a 5'11" and 213 pound forward that is known for delivering devastating body checks and sticking up for his teammates (Photo credit: SWP2011/Flickr). 

He has also been able to contribute offensively over the years, scoring 15 goals in 2012 and 19 goals in 2011. 

Clutterbuck called me this afternoon to discuss the trade from Minnesota, his previous ties to the Islanders, what fans can expect out of him and more. 

What have you been up to this off-season? Have you gone anywhere special or have you just been training for the upcoming season?

I've been mostly training. I just took a short trip to Mexico for a wedding, just a four day trip. An ex-teammate of mine was getting married down there so my wife and I went down for that. Took a trip to New York about two weeks ago now, three weeks ago now. Just trying to find a place to live and hang out in the city for a bit.

What were your initial thoughts of Long Island?

Beautiful. Really all I had seen from the airport to the Coliseum from visiting previous years in Minnesota but I had some people show me around, took me to some pretty cool little areas and I think my family and I are going to be happy here.

What were some of your first thoughts when you heard you were being traded from the Minnesota Wild to the New York Islanders?

It's an odd feeling. I think once you get traded there's a lot of things running through your mind but once the dust settles and you get through all the phone calls and the 200 text messages that you get from friends and family and everybody under the sun and everything settles down, I think it was good for me. I realized it's probably a great opportunity for me, career wise. A lot of times a change of scenery for somebody can be a really positive thing. I think all in all its turned out to be a pretty positive move for me.

Despite the sudden change, you were very quick to show your commitment to your new team by signing a long-term contract. What helped you decide that signing with the Isles for four years was the right decision to make?

You know I think first and foremost they showed the interest in me, for trading for me and offering me a lengthy contract like that. First thing was that they were obviously happy to have me and I was excited about that. And I think if you just look at the average age of the team and then the quality of the players that they have, and the quality of the players who haven't even really reached their potential yet, who probably and hopefully will reach their potential in the next four years, it can turn out to be a pretty scary team to play against. For me, it was just an opportunity to be part of something that was pretty cool in an upcoming kind of team situation. I'm really looking forward to being able to fit in to that and help that group get to where they need to be.

Did it help knowing that your teammate from the Wild, Pierre-Marc Bouchard would be joining you next year?

It helped yeah, I think I got traded about a week before he signed here, but it's good to have familiar faces for sure. And he's going to be in the same situation obviously, having played in Minnesota for ten years it's probably going to be a big change for him. But he's a good guy, he's a nice guy, and I'm sure both of us are going to have no trouble kind of fitting in with the new team.

After last year's successful season that ended with the Isles giving the Pittsburgh Penguins all they can handle in the first round of the playoffs, a lot of players in the Isles locker room felt they had turned some heads and earned a lot of respect from around the league with the way they had played. With you two added to the mix, where do you see yourselves finishing in 2014?

I think honestly our goal is to get back into the playoffs. I think obviously we can aim for some better positioning, maybe get some home ice advantage, that kind of stuff. I think our goal is probably going to be to get into the playoffs and obviously get our game into a position where heading into the playoffs we're really rolling and playing well, and we'll be able to not just try to compete in the first round, but get through the first round and the second round - you know, it's a tough league so you don't want to go off guaranteeing Stanley Cups, or Stanley Cup Finals or anything like that but I think the potential is definitely there (rod182/Flickr).

You led the NHL in hits for three consecutive seasons until your new teammate Matt Martin took over the title. Are you looking forward to some friendly competition for who will crush the most bodies during the regular season?

(Laughs) Yeah, I mean, that's going to be a lot of hits between two guys, that's for sure. It will be fun I'm sure. It will be one of those things. I'm not sure how much attention we'll be paying to it while it's going on. I think the fans and the media will probably have some fun with it. He's a physical guy, he's obviously a big body. He effectively plays that way. I'm not as big but I try and bring that same game too, so hopefully we can both rack up some totals.

Are you expecting there to be any difference between West coast and East coast hockey, especially with the alignment change?

Yeah, I think the alignment actually is going to be less of a shock for my system. If I had stayed in Minnesota I think I would have felt it more but having not played in the Eastern Conference before I don't really have a gauge for what it used to be like, so the realignment is going to be pretty normal to me. I think the major change is just going to be playing different teams night in and night out, playing in closer proximity to home, having shorter road trips, all that kind of thing. That being said, with the new realignment we still have to go out and play home and home with every team so I'm sure we're going to be racking up some miles that way. For the most part, I'm looking forward to playing in New York, playing near a big city where there's tons and tons of hockey fans and tons and tons of huge rivalries. That's something I'm definitely looking forward to.

You and John Tavares were teammates on the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. How do you see you and JT fitting together, this time with a new team and with both of you playing different roles?

I think that if for some reason the time comes where he and I play together, he's just one of those guys, he's easy to play with. Obviously his skill level is at an all-star NHL caliber level. It would be great for me to get an opportunity to play with him, but that being said we are two different types of players. I think, given the right situation, we can definitely complement each other playing on a line together. But I think just being around him again, the last time I played with him he was 14, 15, 16 years old so, I've kept in touch with him but it's going to be fun to see him all grown up and on a day-to-day basis at this level.

Do you have a prior history outside of the NHL with any of the other current Islanders on this team?

I know Kyle Okposo a little bit from my time in Minnesota actually. I used to go down relatively early and skate with a group of guys that skate for three weeks or a month, getting ready for camp. It's a pretty good skate out there. Kyle's been out there every year, so we've gotten to know each other a little bit. We've played a couple rounds of golf together and stuff. I know Matt Moulson a little bit just from mutual friends and we kind of grew up in close proximity to where I'm from. We've had wing night a couple times outside of hockey. As far as that goes, I think that's pretty much it for the rest of the team.

Many fans were upset to see that prospect Nino Niederreiter didn't work out with the Isles, but seeing that you were being added to the line-up might have eased the pain a bit. You have quickly become a fan-favorite in the Twitter-verse despite the fact you have yet to pull an Islanders sweater over your head. What should fans expect out of you each game you step onto the ice?

Really my goal is to just for them to expect consistency. To expect me to be the same every night. Being physical, shooting the puck, driving hard to the net, those kinds of things. Being really responsible defensively, killing penalties hard. I think the biggest thing for me is to just pride myself on being consistent and I think I have a pretty good template for myself as far as what I need to do game in and game out to be effective. That always involves scoring goals, but you know, it's definitely part of the game and I'm always looking to improve on past seasons and past totals. That being said, it's not the be all end all. But I do have sort of a template for myself that I think about and remind myself with every game that I go in to and try to be just overall with consistency.

Do you see yourself becoming a player who not only can protect his teammates as a physical threat, but someone who can score at least 20-goals or more in a season?

Yeah, I think it's obviously not easy to do but as far as I'm concerned, where I'm at now in my career, I think there is a definite possibility that I can do that and I think I can give it on a consistent basis given the right situation. As long as you stay relatively injury free, you get some good ice time, things like that, I think those things can happen. Am I going to be crushed if I don't score 20 goals? Probably not. But I definitely would be lying if I said if I wasn't looking to improve on a 15 or 19 goal season (Mark Bloom44/Flickr).

Are there any players in the NHL that you consider a close friend that aren't on the Wild or the Islanders?

I've got a bunch of friends that are playing on different teams now. A lot of guys from Hockey Canada teams that I've played with, under-18's, under-17's, a lot of guys like that. James Sheppard was my best man at my wedding from San Jose, even though he used to play in Minnesota. Brent Burns, Nick Schultz, these are all guys that I've played with in Minnesota. For the most part a lot of the guys that I've played with are the guys that I keep in touch with on a regular basis. There's a couple guys that I talk to once in a while.

I heard that you and Paul Bissonnette, who's never shy about what he wants to say on Twitter, were pretty good friends too.

Yeah, Paul and I are from the same hometown. There were three or four summers where we were training together. We were pretty close for that length of time and he actually just moved to the West Coast so he's been spending his summers out there. We've stayed in touch but I don't see him as much as I used to. He's a character, he's one of these guys who's obviously created a nice little home for himself on Twitter. Obviously sometimes he crosses the line but he's harmless. Once you get to know him as a person he's a pretty good guy. He's pretty funny.

Let's say he rocked Tavares in a game against the Islanders and you had to go toe-to-toe with him, who would win?

If I had to go toe-to-toe with Biz? I don't know, we'd call it a draw. He's a little more experienced but if I start seeing red, you never know.

-Rob McGowan