Ryane Clowe was not supposed to be a National Hockey League player. There were some serious doubts he’d even play junior in the Quebec league.
By now, of course, his story is well known. Clowe played 10 years in the NHL, made 561 regular season and playoff starts, and during a four-year span between the 2008-09 and 2011-12 seasons with the San Jose Sharks, was one of the NHL’s most effective wingers, bringing a combination of toughness, leadership (he was an assistant captain in San Jose for three years) and scoring, with an average of 20 goals, 54 points and 94 penalty minutes.
Pretty good for a kid who played bantam B hockey as a 14 year-old, and later, whilst in Grade 11, toiled as a house league hockey player when he failed to make the AAA midget all-star team.
Eventually, Clowe got his break in junior, playing parts of three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, quite literally working his way to a pro hockey career.
So it stands to reason the new coach of the Newfoundland Growlers will, if nothing else, demand an exceptional work ethic from his ECHL expansion team this season.
As first reported at www.thetelegram.com over the weekend, Clowe — born in St. John’s and raised in both Fermeuse and Mount Pearl — has become the face of the Growlers’ franchise, signed as its first coach.
Nobody from the Growlers organization or the Toronto Maple Leafs were commenting Sunday, but an official announcement is expected sometime this week.
The Leafs and Growlers announced an affiliation agreement last week, and it’s Toronto which has hired Clowe.
As a new organization in a new league in a city which housed an American Hockey League franchise for 20 years, the Growlers needed a star attraction in their first year.
They’ve found one, even if he is the coach.
For the last two seasons, Clowe worked as an assistant on John Hynes’s New Jersey Devils coaching staff in New Jersey.
Clowe, now 35, retired from playing in 2015 following a series of concussion, and two years after signing a $24.25 million, free agent contract with the Devils.
He did some scouting during the 2015-16 hockey season, before signing on as a Devils’ assistant.
“I tried scouting, but it wasn’t even close. Once I got into coaching, I knew that was where I wanted to be.”
Ryane Clowe in 2017
In an interview with The Telegram last summer, Clowe said he found a passion for coaching that first season in New Jersey.
“I tried scouting, but it wasn’t even close,” he said. “Once I got into coaching, I knew that was where I wanted to be.”
Clowe has always had good relationships with his former coaches, including Todd McLellan in San Jose and Pete DeBoer in New Jersey. Even John Tortorella in New York, during Clowe’s brief stint with the Rangers.
“I wasn’t always banging on their door asking questions or anything,” he said of his coaches, “but I'd pick their brains, and sometimes I’d challenge them. We butted heads at times, but I always respected my coaches.
“I was not a guy who thought he knew everything.”
As a player, Clowe was a take-no-prisoners kind of winger, who played hurt and played equally tough on the road as he did in his home rink.
“Some people are cheerleaders,” then-Sharks coach McLellan told The Telegram in a 2011 feature. “Who needs cheerleaders? You have to back it up, you have to come to the rink and perform every day, and Clowie does that. He has credibility.
“He performs on the ice and he backs up whatever it is he has to say. There’s not one guy in that locker room who can say Ryane Clowe doesn't back up his words.”
Throughout his NHL career, Clowe was not averse to calling out teammates if needed, and probably won’t stop now as a head coach.
“He's not afraid to bark, and we absolutely love to see that as a coaching staff,” McLellan told The Telegram.
“I’m an intense guy and there's nothing more I like than winning,” Clowe said. “Some guys can sound like a broken record, right? And I guess words only go so far if you don't back them up.
“I'm not one of those guys who is going to call out a teammate in the papers and not to their face. I’ll let guys know face-to-face, and I think people respect that.”
The Maple Leafs are expected to have as many as a dozen players under contract in St. John’s, meaning it will be up to Clowe and the Growlers’ front office to fill out the remaining roster spots.
The Leafs will also be signing an assistant coach, and no doubt Clowe will have a say in that hiring.
Currently residing in Florida, Clowe and his family — his wife is from St. John’s/Mount Pearl — will relocate back to St. John’s.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort