Those who are familiar with Welland, Ontario, will probably tell you it’s not a big city, but it’s a hockey city. And to its credit, it has had its hockey players, young and old, who have helped shape many leagues.
This go-around, the modest industrial manufacturing city, which is situated just halfway between Lakes Ontario and Erie on the Welland Ship Canal, brings us Cal Clutterbuck.
After spending his minor career playing in Welland and known primarily as a scorer, Clutterbuck advanced to the major junior ranks when the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors made him their top draft pick in 2003. He would go on to spend a season and a half with St. Mike’s before he was traded to the Oshawa Generals in January of 2005.
Clutterbuck has developed into a tenacious two-way winger who has an innate ability to play the body and soft enough hands to light the lamp with consistency.
Skating the majority of the season alongside the ever-intriguing John Tavares (2009 eligible), Clutterbuck turned in a solid season where he finished as the team’s third leading scorer with 68 points (35 goals, 33 assists) in 66 games played.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Clutterbuck recently while back at home with his family in Welland. He spoke about his progression as a player, the 2005-06 season, as well as his future.
HF: What in your approach did you have change once you knew the OHL was on the horizon?
CC: I wasn’t as aggressive as I am now. I saw myself more as a goal scorer back then. Now I’ve turned into more of a grinder. I added that a couple years before I was up for the OHL draft. I also rounded out my defensive capabilities as well.
HF: What helped you the most in preparing for the OHL?
CC: I took a good look at all the other players from Welland had done before to get into the OHL. I watched guys like Jamie Tardif (CGY), Dan Paille (BUF) and Paul Bissonnette (PIT) and tried to mimic them.
HF: What were your first impressions coming into the league three seasons ago with the Majors?
CC: I found it a bit intimidating. Dave Cameron was a great coach and we had a really good team already in place. I didn’t get to play much, but I felt I still had to pay my dues. Whenever I did get some ice time, I gave it my all. By the time playoffs rolled around, I was skating with Tim Brent (ANA) and Cory Vitarelli and I was doing really well. The start was a bit rocky because of the lack of playing time, but after that, I think I settled in pretty nice.
HF: Do you remember exactly when it was that you knew you were comfortable going to a game every night?
CC: I really felt good the first game of my second year. I was a bit timid my first year with the puck. I was more worried about screwing up than just playing. I think it helped that I knew I was getting comfortable during the summer and I was gaining confidence heading into my second season.
HF: How much did things change when you got traded to Oshawa?
CC: About a month before I got traded, I went into a point-scoring slump. I started to second-guess myself again and the confidence really wasn’t there. Once I got traded, it was like a new beginning and my confidence was back. The feeling also came back when I played my first game with Oshawa.
HF: Was there really a lot of doubt building with the added burden to produce during that time?
CC: I had a couple games where I didn’t get any points and I just snowballed. The coach was getting on me, but then I was traded and I had this great new beginning.
HF: Obviously that seems to be a time when you were dealing with a lot of adversity. How do you tackle tough situations and get through them?
CC: There is a lot of adversity at this level with all that goes on. When it came to my scoring slump, you really try not to worry about it even though that is really hard. You just need to get a bounce here or a bounce there and capitalize on it and your back in your rhythm. I think part of it, is knowing that you’re capable of doing things even though things aren’t going your way. You just got to stay [in a] positive frame of mind and work through it.
HF: This season you came back and put up some solid numbers. What was the difference out there for you?
CC: I felt a lot of confidence in my game and I worked a lot on my shot over the summer. I think that helped because I scored a lot more goals from further out than I have ever done before. I played with some good linemates and I saw a lot of time, which all helped add to my totals at the end of the year.
HF: Looking back over the past season, did you feel any pressure about playing because this is your draft year?
CC: No, because well before I came into the OHL, I felt like I was developing into one of the better players in my own mind. When I was going into this season and I wasn’t rated that high, it made me feel like the underdog. I felt like I had nothing to lose, I played with that underdog mentality and I think it worked very well for me.
HF: Did you change your style or approach as player?
CC: No, because I wanted to establish myself as someone who was dangerous to all the teams in the OHL, whether we were home or away. Whether it was on the scoreboard, or because I made a big hit or blocked a shot, I wanted them to have to remember me when we were done. If I was on every other team’s radar, then I figured it would make others take notice too.
HF: You played a lot with John Tavares. Do you think he is going to live up to the hype?
CC: I think so, yeah. He’s going to be a good player.
HF: You say your play benefited from having good linemates, was John one of the pieces to that equation?
CC: I would say so. I couldn’t ask for a better linemate. He’s a good kid and a great player. I’m very fortunate to skate with a player of his caliber.
HF: Even though you were a steady scorer throughout the season, you also had three hat tricks. How was it to accomplish that?
CC: My first against Erie came on my birthday, so it was more luck than anything else. The other two were against Ottawa, which happened once at home and one away. During the game versus Ottawa at home, I was getting the bounces and things were just going well for me. That weekend alone, I had something like five goals, so I was just hot. I don’t know what it really was but I was taking a lot of shots, getting a lot of bounces and getting myself in front of the net when I needed to. I went into the last one against Ottawa feeling good going into the game. I worked hard during the game and I happened to be the one that got all our goals.
HF: January was a hot month for in general. You had 16 points (9 goals, 7 assists) in 12 games that month. What was going right for you and/or the team?
CC: I don’t really know. I was taken off the line with Tavares a bit and I was put into a checking role for about three weeks, but I was still getting my minutes on the power play. Then, I was put back on one of the top 2 scoring lines. Combined with the power play I was getting, that contributed to the points I was getting at the time.
HF: About half your goals were on the power play this past season. Did you find it frustrating that you weren’t getting more goals at even strength, or are you going to take goals where you can get them?
CC: You have to take them where you can get them. As long as the team is succeeding, it really doesn’t matter where the goals are coming from. Obviously with where the game is moving, power play goals are going to increase.
HF: Was it frustrating to have personal success this season but the team struggled a lot?
CC: Yeah, because team success is more of a day-to-day thing. It’s in your mind a lot more because everyone is together playing for your city and we’re not doing well. People around you aren’t as happy because you’re not winning. The thing about last season is, we were still a better team than we were a year before. We lost a lot of games by a lot of goals. This season, we were in every game and our fans were great. Near the end of year, we won a couple of games. I would say we got our confidence heading into next, which I think is going to be a great year.
HF: What was it like to play in the CHL/NHL Top Prospect game in Ottawa earlier this year?
CC: It was great because I wasn’t originally invited. I was quite thrilled when I got the chance to go. I went in there and tried to enjoy it as much as I could.
HF: You have some experience playing with for Team Ontario in the U-17 and also with Team Canada for the U-18 tournament last spring. How was that to get that experience?
CC: It was awesome. It is a completely different experience that is hard to describe. Overseas is so nice and the international game is so different. It’s still awesome, but it’s a faster paced game. Half of the Team Canada players who I played with last spring are already drafted in the first round. It was a great experience and hopefully I get to do it again.
HF: Talk about your game and explain what you bring to the table.
CC: My work ethic is something that I bring consistently. I’m a pretty speedy player with a decent shot. I finish all my checks, maybe a little too much sometimes. I like the physical aspect of the game and I’m not shy to get down to block a shot or do whatever it took to win a game.
HF: How important is it to you to bring that physical aspect to the game every night?
CC: It’s just something some guys have and some guys don’t. It’s a matter of liking the physical aspect of the game. Some guys like and some guys are more finesse players. I’m just one of those guys who brings that and thinks it’s a great attribute to have. A lot of guys who have made in the past have made it without the physical part, but I’m glad I have it and I hope it sticks with me.
HF: What are some aspects of your game that you would like to work on and improve?
CC: My vision when I’m in the offensive zone. I need to get my assists boosted up by hitting the wide-open guy. I need to pick my spots a little better when I’m throwing the body so I’m not always taking myself out of the play. My size, speed and strength can always get better.
HF: What are some of your biggest accomplishments in hockey thus far?
CC: This year was a big year for me because of the overall season I had. I’m proud of the U-17 gold medal and the U-18 silver medal. I’m happy with my international play and my ranking heading into the draft.
HF: How much has playing in the OHL develop as a player and as a person?
CC: As a person, it helped me a lot because I moved away when I was 16 years old. It makes you grow up pretty quick. Even though you’re with billet families, you’re pretty much on your own. They’re not your parents, but they do a great job. It just forces you to grow up. For my play, growing up with my buddies, we were always about even. They decided not to go to the OHL, but play junior B a couple more years. Because I jumped to the league, it taught me that you have to keep up and elevate your game every night. For that, I think it’s made me better. I’m glad I came to the OHL.
HF: Does anything change for once you get selected come next month?
CC: No. I’m just going to work hard towards eventually signing a contract. You know, being drafted is nice and it’s a foot in the door, but nothing is etched in stone. I’m just going to keep working hard and playing my game.
HF: Because you’re a higher rated drafted pick heading, does it make you feel like you have to turn it up now to prove it?
CC: I don’t really think so but it’s going to give me a lot more confidence. I’ll just have to see what happens come draft day.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.