With multiple concussions over the past two seasons, you wouldn’t blame Ryane Clowe for taking it easy on the ice, but the power forward says he’s not about to change his game.
By Gareth Bush At first glance, it didn’t seem any different from most other fights. New Jersey Devils forward Ryane Clowe had just finished a hit on Brian Strait early in a game against the Islanders on Dec. 28 when Isles bruiser Matt Carkner stepped up for his teammate. Clowe is no stranger to this situation. He has 95 career fights under his belt going back to his junior days with the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL. It shouldn’t have felt any different. But it did. “I was a little worried about how I’d feel after getting punched in the face. It all happened really quickly. But at least it’s out of the way,” he says. Clowe was only in his second game back since returning from a concussion that caused him to miss 32 games. Given his recent history with head injuries, his decision to drop the mitts so quickly raised eyebrows.
According to reports, Clowe had three concussions last season prior to this one. He suffered one early in the season with the Sharks, a second after his trade to the Rangers and then a third in the post-season. “I probably rushed myself back after the second one because of me being a pending free agent and coming to a new team in playoff time,” he says. “I look at last year and sum it up as one big concussion.” Clowe isn’t sure how many concussions he’s endured in his career, but a couple of recent examples should have him concerned about more than just winning hockey games: Chris Pronger and Marc Savard were forced to step away from the game early after suffering several head injuries. “This one definitely opened my eyes,” he says. “I think about what could happen if I take another hit or two like that.” But Clowe, who signed a five-year, $24.3 million free-agent deal with the Devils in July, isn’t about to shy away from his game as a brute-strength power forward that made him a mainstay in San Jose’s top six. “New Jersey signed me for a reason,” he says, “so I can’t go out and change how I play. You just try to avoid certain situations. I don’t say ‘no’ to a fight too often, so maybe I’ll pick my spots better there. I can understand where people are coming from.” Clowe admits he was nervous prior to his return, but says he’s felt good since coming back. Even after a fight, which he’s now done twice after his latest concussion, everything seems normal. “You don’t want to dip your toes in, you want to jump in,” he says. “I’ve been hit hard a couple times since I came back and felt fine, so you can’t go out every game thinking about it.” After recording only two points in his first 11 games this season, Clowe’s found a home on a line with Michael Ryder and Adam Henrique, tallying five in his last four, including two on Sunday in Toronto. He knows New Jersey brought him in to replace the departed David Clarkson, who plays a similar physical style while also contributing offensively. Since 2014 began, Clowe has found his groove and is flourishing in the role. Devils fans hope it’s a sign of things to come. And as for staying healthy over the next five years? “I’ll keep my head up,” he says.