Toronto the good for Clemmensen?

BILL LANKHOF, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

Scott Clemmensen is to hockey what the Maytag repairman is to laundry.

Clemmensen might be so good he could be the second coming of Grant Fuhr, or at least Ken Wregget -- but who would know?

In six seasons dating back to the 2001-02 season, Clemmensen toiled in the most obscure position in the NHL. As the backup to New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur he played in just 25 NHL games. That averages out to a bit over four a season. Nobody in the NHL, this side of Alexei Yashin, showed up less often.

Then, last year when he did play, it caused no small amount of grief in Toronto.

That was when the Leafs needed the Devils to beat the Islanders on the final day of the season to get into the playoffs. New Jersey, instead of starting Brodeur who had set an NHL record for wins, gave the start to Clemmensen -- one of four he had all season. Leafs fans charged the Devils with dereliction of duty. To hear the radio talk shows, as a goalie, Clemmensen couldn't have stopped traffic on the Don Valley if he was laying in the centre lane.

IRONIC MOVE

"It is ironic I ended up in Toronto," Clemmensen said yesterday as he prepared to make his first appearance in the Leafs net in Boston today since earning himself a footnote in Maple Leafs folklore. "These fans were obviously cheering for me last year when I wasn't even on the team."

As usual Leafs fans went away disappointed. Clemmensen and the Devils lost 3-2 in a shootout. This summer, weary of playing the clay pigeon position for Devils shooters in practice, he became an unrestricted free agent.

"It was time for me to move out of New Jersey and take control of my career again. It has been stagnant there for a couple of years. I'd like to have had more opportunity there than I did so it was time to go somewhere else," he said.

BUT TORONTO?

When he signed in July, the Leafs already had Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala as headliners, with Justin Pogge as the latest heir to inhabit the crease with the AHL's Marlies. So, what was he thinking?

"It's the NHL. I knew whatever organization I went to they were going to have good goalies, so I just have to jump in. I feel I can compete with those guys."

In essence he will trade a marginal NHL lifestyle with the Devils and game day idleness for travelling the boonies with the Marlies and plenty of game-day work. Unless calamity, or a trade, befalls Raycroft or Toskala, today's start in Boston will be his last in the NHL for the foreseeable future.

"I knew that I'd kind of maybe have to take a step back after playing in the NHL but not gaining so much experience," he said.

Leafs coach Paul Maurice said yesterday Clemmensen will get "a big number" of starts with the Marlies and that he will be a good tutor for Pogge.

"I don't know what their plan is and I'm not going to worry about that," Clemmensen said, "Obviously I signed with the Leafs because I thought it would be the best place for me."

He and his wife have rented an apartment in downtown Toronto. So far, he's lovin' it. So is Maurice, who sees an organization with more goaltending depth.

Not to mention, when you have the backup to Brodeur, the NHL's workaholic, you know when it comes to getting another shot with the big-league club, you have a guy who's an expert on patience.

DOWNSIDE

"The (downside) is he's played behind the best guy in the world and didn't get a lot of ice time so there was no game development. At the same time, he played behind the best goaltender in the world so we may have something there," Maurice said. "And it wouldn't be the first time that a guy played in the shadow and stepped out of it. I'm going to use this example, which is totally unfair, but that Hasek kid couldn't get in the net when Belfour was there."

A year ago Clemmensen's name in Toronto was mud. Now -- albeit reluctantly -- it's being bandied about in the same thought as a future Hall of Famer.

Maybe Clemmensen's right. Maybe Toronto will be the best place for him.


Videos

Photos