In an exclusive interview, Newfoundland’s own NHL veteran Ryane Clowe reflects on his playing career and coaching future ahead of the inaugural Growlers season
For kids growing up clearing snow off of ponds in rural Newfoundland, waking early for morning hockey practice, saving chore money to buy that perfect stick, Ryane Clowe is the archetype, a success story that keeps growing.
The Fermeuse native enjoyed a fruitful 10-plus year run in the National Hockey League, earning an impressive 309 points in 491 career games through big league tenures with the San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils before his career was cut short due to injury.
And though his on-ice career has ended in less than auspicious circumstances, Ryane Clowe’s next chapter in his career steers him home, becoming the head coach for the inaugural Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL.
Rewinding to the end of his playing career to best gain clarity on his current fortunes, Clowe recalls the idea that his playing fate was out of his hands
“It was challenging early,” Clowe admits in a candid sitdown with The Herald. “I still wanted to play. I was 33-34 when I was forced away, so I still felt like I had some years left in me and that was a challenging time.
“Partially I felt it might have been the right decision that it worked out the way it did. It was a long couple of years before that in New Jersey and it was challenging after signing a lucrative extension there and having that pressure on yourself to perform.
‘Out of My Hands’
“It was hard to miss so many games. I didn’t even get cleared by the team doctors and the independent doctor that I had seen. I just wasn’t cleared to play. It was out of my hands, which I guess made it a little easier. At the end of the day there were many times over the last couple of years that I’ve thought of trying to come back and maybe trying to play again. That’s just natural I think. Luckily for me I was able to get up every day and do something I found other than actual playing.”
Sticking with the Devils organization who so heavily invested in his talents in 2013, Clowe found himself drawn towards a career directed at a very different side of the game.
“We had a new regime coming in with John Hynes the coach and Ray Shero as the GM and I didn’t know them. It kind of worked out for me that they gave me the opportunity to stay around,” he explains. “I went through training camp, hung around a little bit and went to the rink. Kind of did some pro scouting. I was around the coaches a lot so it kind of morphed into a little more and more that year. At the end of the year I realized that coaching was what I wanted to do, especially at my age where I felt I could get a head start early. It’s the next best thing and it keeps you close to the game, as close as you can get to the action besides playing. I’m just really enjoying it as well. It’s not something to just get me out of the house, but something I’ve found that I’m passionate in.”
Joining the Devils as an assistant coach in 2016 offered Clowe the chance to work alongside some of the game’s greatest minds, helping a team rebuild its status as a cup contender. That is, until the opportunity of a lifetime, on home soil no less, came calling. Clowe would find himself in the running for the inaugural head coach position for the East Coast Hockey League’s new Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate here in St. John’s, the Newfoundland Growlers.
A Challenging Decision
“It kind of came together quick,” Clowe recalls. “I had the opportunity to go back to New Jersey with a promotion and probably be the second or third assistant. I loved my years there and loved the staff so it was challenging to make that decision. One of the big reasons, when I heard the team was coming here and they were affiliated with the Leafs and Toronto was doing the hiring of the coaching, it kind of intrigued me. I didn’t want to be the guy where it’s like oh we’ll get this former NHL player to come back home, get a name and help sell some tickets. I didn’t want that, that’s not what I was looking for. I wasn’t going to move back home. I was in Jersey and had a place in Florida. I would come back in the summers, and had no intention to retire back in Newfoundland. The opportunity to be a head coach, the opportunity to be back home is intriguing. I got hired by the Leafs and had to go through the whole process. It wasn’t a gimme by any means.”
As to what Clowe brings to the table as coach, he aims to apply some of the same finesse and tactics taught to him by so many of the great hockey-minds who shaped him as a player, while also developing his bench with his own blend of beliefs and systems.
“I have core values that I believe in. Honestly you hear it all the time that you have to be yourself, but I feel you can also pick a little bit from everyone. I’ve had a lot of high end coaches and have been lucky enough to have some good coaches who I respect and obviously getting to work with John Hynes who I have a ton of respect for in New Jersey. I think in coaching you have to do what you think is best, but you can’t try to please everyone. I’ve seen that throughout the years where at times you try to keep everyone happy and it just doesn’t work out, so you’ve got to do what you feel is best for the team. I think you have to have values that you believe in, core values that are non-negotiable and you work off those.”
Recalling his successful NHL career, Clowe is reminded of just how far Newfoundland and Labrador has come in its development and maturation of elite level players.
“During my time in the NHL it was incredible. We had six or seven guys from Newfoundland all in the NHL at the same time in 2010-11 at that range and I remember they were all making big impacts on their teams,” he says. “It wasn’t just guys in and out of the lineup. It was impressive and it was really good for the province. I think it was great for the young kids to see that, that it was certainly obtainable.”
With anticipation rising by the day for the start of the Growlers season opener, Clowe and company are more than aware that they have a rabid hockey province to please, one that has seen its share of disappointments and setbacks throughout the years.
“If you look at the AHL, especially when the IceCaps came back, I think that really sums up Newfoundland,” Clowe says. “They really do love their hockey and they get behind it. It was challenging when they left again and Montreal’s farm team only came for two years. That’s hard on the fans, with a wishy-washy situation, and that’s one thing I like about the Growlers. They’re affiliated with the Leafs but they’re Newfoundland’s team. If it’s support and the support is there they aren’t going to go anywhere and that’s something we have to get behind. I feel there’s excitement, everything has been positive so far. I look forward to getting started and I think once fans see the product they’re going to enjoy it.”
Whether the Growlers embark on a debut season Cinderella run or struggle out of the gate as so many fledgling clubs do, Clowe plans on sticking to the blueprint, aiding in the growth and development of the next batch of Leafs, while also spurring on the next wave of hockey fandom in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I think we’re going to have two standards with this team,” he says. “Number one is you’re going to try to develop these players and that’s a big part of my job, and we want to be a premier team in the ECHL. Winning is a big part of development in my opinion. We’re going to do what we can to be exciting to watch and win as many games as we can. Honestly, it’s my first time as a head coach and it’s a new team and there’s new stuff going on, so I have no predictions. But I really feel we’ll be a competitive team and that’s what we’ll expect.”
For more on the Newfoundland Growlers and for tickets visit nlgrowlers.com and mileonecentre.com. Season kickoff is October 12th at Mile One Centre. Go Growlers Go!