Scott Clemmensen might be gone from the NHL, but he’s certainly not forgotten.
One of the highlights of his remarkable season came this week when his former teammates voted him unsung hero of the New Jersey Devils. The honour seemed especially fitting since Clemmensen wasn’t around to accept it in person.
Instead, the man who helped save New Jersey’s season was in Lowell, Mass., where he’s recovering a minor hand injury and hoping to play a few more American Hockey League games before the end of the year.
The distance didn’t take anything away from how good Clemmensen felt at being named the NHL team’s unsung hero.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “I’m very appreciative that my teammates think of me in that matter. As a goalie, your No. 1 priority is to gain the respect and confidence of your teammates.
“Above all else – even the coaching staff or management.”
He freely admits that it’s been the strangest season of his eight-year pro career. It actually ranks right up there with one of the most unusual for a goalie ever.
Clemmensen didn’t really get an opportunity to start playing games consistently with the Devils until mid-November and was sent back down to the AHL when Martin Brodeur returned from injury in February.
During the three-month window in the middle, he put up 25 wins – there are still several NHL goalies with less – and ranked in the top-10 in both goals-against average (2.39) and save percentage (.917).
If league rules didn’t require him to clear waivers to stay with the Devils after Brodeur’s return, he’d still be in New Jersey. But even a return to the minors hasn’t taken the shine off what Clemmensen accomplished.
“I feel like I’ve kind of jump-started my career even though it’s eight years in,” he said. “I’ve always felt like I had my foot in the door of the NHL, but at this point, I feel like I’ve shoved the door open and got my whole body in there.
“It’s better late than never.”
His journey has required some patience.
New Jersey selected him in the eighth round of the 1997 draft – although Clemmensen likes to joke that he’s a 17th-round pick because it was his second year of eligibility. After a successful career at Boston College, he spent several seasons bouncing from the Devils to the AHL, never playing more than 13 NHL games in a season while backing up the workhorse Brodeur.
He eventually looked elsewhere for an opportunity and spent last season playing in Toronto – primarily as a member of the AHL Marlies. However, Clemmensen decided to return to the familiarity of the Devils organization over the summer amid uncertainty in the Maple Leafs front office.
The one tie that links those moves is his desire for a sustained chance to play in the NHL. It’s an opportunity he’s found is rarely given to young goaltenders that weren’t drafted in the early rounds.
“You get a guy like Tim Thomas, he comes into the league and everyone says, ‘Well, where did he come from?’ He’d been playing professionally for 10 years,” said Clemmensen. “It took him 10 years to become an overnight success. And that’s just because you have to wait for a break.
“I’m no different.”
The last year has been particularly tumultuous.
Clemmensen became a father for the first time when baby Olivia was born last May, and the family has moved eight times in the 10 months since. He referred to the period as a “travelling road show.”
Fortunately, there’s reason to hope that a little more stability might be in the family’s immediate future.
Clemmensen becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer and will be looking to sign a one-way contract with an NHL team. He and agent Jordan Neumann plan to consider every offer that comes their way.
“I’m very optimistic about my hockey career and going forward with that,” said Clemmensen. “I’m in a unique situation, a different situation than I’ve been in the past. I’m not going to say that I won’t re-sign with New Jersey – I want to keep all of my options open and available to me.
“But it will be a situation where I would like to see what is out there. I’ll do what’s best for me.”
After making the most of his first big opportunity in the NHL this season, he has plenty of reasons to feel good about the future.
But Clemmensen maintains that he always believed it was something he was capable of.
“Obviously if Marty hadn’t of gotten hurt, I wouldn’t have gone up and I would have played most of this year in Lowell,” he said. “But I’d be the same goalie. If things didn’t work out that way, it wouldn’t have meant I wasn’t good enough to play in the NHL.”