February 29, 2012
Fresh start welcome for Clitsome
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - There are second chances, new leases on life -- and then there's the case of Grant Clitsome, who must feel like he's been plucked from the balcony of a burning building.
The newest Winnipeg Jet landed here from Columbus, where the season has been marked by: the firing of a head coach (Scott Arniel), a star player wanting out (Rick Nash), a GM who outed the star player (Scott Howson) and a team buried so far in last place you need a colonoscopy to find it.
The Blue Jackets have had trouble stopping the puck, by next season they won't have their marquee player and they're talking about rebuilding from scratch.
Of course, "rebuilding" implies something was actually up and running in the first place.
Columbus has been a bit like Atlanta where the NHL is concerned. Occasionally, you catch yourself thinking, "You mean they have a team there?"
In every mess such as this, you're bound to have collateral damage.
Meet No. 24 on the blue-line of the Jets.
"It was a tough season in general for the whole team, and that really affected individual players all around," Clitsome, surrounded by more cameras than he'd probably ever seen in Columbus, said, Wednesday. "If you look up and down our whole roster in Columbus, guys underachieved. It was a tough, disappointing season."
One of those underachievers was the 26-year-old now in the dressing room stall between Mark Stuart and Ondrej Pavelec, a stout, 5-foot-11, 215-pound defenceman from Ottawa who looked so promising a year ago (19 points in 31 games), only to be cut loose early this week (14 in 51).
Which raises the question: how can a spare part deemed expendable at a junkyard like Columbus come in handy here, with a team in a playoff race?
"It's hard to tell," Clitsome acknowledged. "I just got here. I just hope I can help in the playoff push."
He won't get a chance right away.
As much as Claude Noel might like him from their brief time together in Ohio, there's a protocol when you bring in a new face, at least one that doesn't have all-star games on his resume.
Clitsome will have to fit into the room, first, find his way around practice for a few days, before bumping a loyal foot soldier from the lineup.
The Jets have become a fairly tight group, and outsiders need to prove themselves before they're accepted.
"There are some things you have to look at there when inserting a new player," Noel explained. "Is it good in the room? The loyalties to the players in the room. It's really not reflective of what I think of him as a player.
"I'm more concerned with the room, the players and how they feel, the perception and stuff like that."
But you can be sure the time will come when Clitsome gets into the lineup, at somebody's expense.
Until then, he can bask in the knowledge he's out of a dysfunctional situation and into a hockey hotbed.
Friends and family reacted like he's gone to a Stanley Cup contender.
"They're all really excited," Clitsome said. "When I first got the news my phone was going crazy with all positive reactions. Everyone's really excited to see me back in Canada and a hockey-crazy market like Winnipeg.
"It's been awesome. I opened a Twitter account two days ago. And ever since I got picked up on waivers it's blown up. I'm not really into it that much, so that's been crazy."
Crazy in a good way, as opposed to what he came from.
"It's a fresh start," he concluded. "An opportunity to come to an organization where everything's new...
"It's just a fresh start, getting excited to be back at the rink, excited to play and being in this atmosphere."
Playing will have to wait.
But if it's atmosphere he wants, he's come to the right place.