Clutterbuck a hit with Wild

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:40 PM ET

Cal Clutterbuck developed a love for driving opponents through the boards at an early age.

And through the years, the Minnesota Wild winger has continued his hard-hitting ways, rarely passing up an opportunity to make his presence felt on the ice.

“I was pretty excited once contact started in minor hockey,” Clutterbuck said. “I scored some goals when I was young, so I wasn’t running around hurting kids or anything, but I liked playing physical, for sure.”

Heading into Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, Clutterbuck was the runaway leader in hits throughout the league this season. The native of Welland, Ont., had 329 registered hits through 74 games. That’s an average of over four hits a game. Carolina Hurricanes winger Tuomo Ruutu was second with 305.

“Some guys score goals, some guys are good passers and some guys can skate extremely well,” Clutterbuck said. “My thing happens to be playing physical. It’s a big part of my game.”

It’s how Clutterbuck broke into the league.

The Wild’s third-round pick — 72nd overall — in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft made an early impression by taking at run at anyone when he got the chance.

He developed a reputation as a guy teams had to be aware of when he was on the ice.

“I like him,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “I like the way he plays, I like the fact that he does finish checks. He plays hard and he has the attention of his opponents every time he plays and that’s a good thing for a player.

“You want that type of reputation for the right reasons, which is being a good teammate and playing the game hard, which is good.”

This season, Clutterbuck, 23, has added a scoring element to his game. Going in against the Oilers, he had a career-high 19 goals on the year, with two games left to try and hit the 20-goal plateau.

“Getting 20 is something that I really don’t think about all that much,” Clutterbuck said. “It’s not really that important that I score that goal. It’s an accomplishment to score 20 at this level, but I hope I’ll have the opportunity to do it again. Every year I want to improve, so if I’m improving every year, then I’m going to give myself a chance of scoring 20 every year as long as I’m staying healthy.”

Considering the way Clutterbuck plays the game, it’s surprising he’s been able to play over 74 games a season for the past three seasons.

On Friday, he was feeling a little better after having fallen ill two days earlier in what was suspected to be a case of food poisoning.

Regardless, being as physical as Clutterbuck is night after night takes a toll.

“It’s harder some nights than it is others,” Clutterbuck said. “Some nights I’m fine and some nights you get minor bumps and bruises. It’s one of those things that my body is used to. If I get hurt, I get hurt, but I find you get hurt a lot more when you’re the hunted, not the hunter. The more aggressive you are and the more offensive you are, it really goes a long way into just being ready for anything that comes at you.”

At five-foot-11, 213 pounds, Clutterbuck has never been the biggest guy on the ice. But his knack for being able to pack a huge wallop is in the ability to read and react to where an opponent is going to be on the ice.

“There’s some anticipation that goes into it,” he said. “There’s an element of surprise and a certain technique that goes into it. I haven’t thought about it that thoroughly. It’s something that I’ve been able to do, and for whatever reason, I can do it well.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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