Wild's Clutterbuck a hitting machine

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:30 PM ET

ST. PAUL — Every pro athlete who catches his big break has someone in their past to thank.

For Minnesota Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck, one of his first debts was to former Houston Aeros AHL teammate Barry Brust.

The ex-Calgary Hitmen goaltender saved Clutterbuck’s car from the impound lot when his promotion to the NHL in 2008 turned into a full rookie season.

Clutterbuck had played two games for the Wild the previous year and expected the same as he headed to the airport in Houston when Owen Nolan’s groin forced him to the sidelines early in the ‘08-09 campaign.

“I was running a little late and I didn’t expect to be (in the NHL) that long,” Clutterbuck said of leaving his car in the short-term parking lot.

“It was there for 40 or 50 days. I’d almost forgotten about it. I kept putting off sending somebody to go get it. Finally, a towing company called me and they were going to grab it and impound it.”

That’s where Brust bailed him out with a laborious search, driving around with his girlfriend and fiddling with Clutterbuck’s remote key out the window in hopes it would make the horn honk and lights flash so he could track it down.

“I was on the phone with him for a solid hour and a half,” Clutterbuck said Monday morning with a laugh. “There’s like three parking garages there, six floors on each, and they all look exactly the same.

“I had to send them a thank-you present.”

As for his status as an every-day NHLer ever since, Clutterbuck has no one but himself to thank.

The 23-year-old has carved out a name for himself as arguably the hardest hitter in the league despite a 5-foot-11, less-than-Chara-like frame. He owns the NHL single-season record for dishing out 356 of them in 78 games as a rookie in 2008-09. He’s led the league every year since, and is setting the pace again heading into Monday’s clash with the Flames with 147 though 31 games.

It’s something that’s always been a thrill for the 23-year-old from Welland, Ont.

“Ever since I was able to hit guys when I was younger, I always enjoyed the physical aspect of the game,” Clutterbuck said. “The one thing I remember is when I would hit guys when I was young, we had cages on. I used to love the cage-rattling sound when two cages would clang together. That’s the thing I enjoyed the most, when I’d hear that sound when I hit somebody and standing over him having laid him out.

“It’s still a feeling that’s cool today.”

It does take a toll on his 213-lb. body, but he’s never missed significant time even when catching his skate in a rut and suffering a high-ankle sprain a year ago.

Others aren’t always so lucky.

Mark Giordano missed the last few months of the 2008-09 season with a shoulder injury that required surgery after a Clutterbuck hit.

“I’m not going out there to do things like that. It happens sometimes. I feel bad,” Clutterbuck said. “I felt bad when that happened. It’s unlucky to have a guy go through all that rehab and miss all that time.

“Hopefully it never happens to me, but it might happen to me someday.”

In the meantime, the hits will keep on coming.

He’s the biggest threat to his own record for the stat tracked officially by the NHL since the lockout.

“It’s pretty amazing. It is an NHL record,” he said. “It’s not one they’ve been keeping for a long time, but if it’s in the record book and my name’s beside it, it’s pretty cool.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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