by Andrew J. Ferraro || AHL On The Beat Archive
Cal Clutterbuck is the youngest player on the Houston Aeros and has a job that is usually reserved for an older, more experienced player.
Clutterbuck, who will turn 20 on Nov. 18, had a successful junior career playing with other skilled forwards and put up decent numbers with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.
But now…things are a bit different.
“I am kind of like an agitator with a lot of energy, and I will have to be a physical guy,” Clutterbuck said. “I am not going to play at the next level as a finesse guy or a goal scorer.”
He fine-tuned his offensive game with the Generals, giving him the knowledge that he could compete at the next level. And so far he has shown just that in his first five games with the Aeros.
His goal is to one day play in the NHL and if he is going to get there, he was told that he will have to play a different kind of hockey than he is used to.
“Obviously my goal is to play at the next level,” Clutterbuck added. “And if they tell me I’ve got to play this way to get there, then that is what I will do.”
Just like a year ago, when they missed the postseason for the first time as members of the AHL, the Aeros are off to a slow start, winning just one of their first five games (1-3-1-0).
But as the team around him appears to struggle with the new systems being installed by head coach Kevin Constantine, Clutterbuck turns things up a notch on every shift and looks relatively comfortable doing it.
Whether he is being an agitator or trying to prevent or score goals, Clutterbuck looks like a legitimate AHL player and is having a good time, playing with current linemates Aaron Voros and Adrian Foster.
In fact, Clutterbuck was arguably the reason why the Aeros recovered from near-disaster in their shootout win at San Antonio on Oct. 19.
After scoring the first three goals of the game, the Aeros collapsed, allowing the Rampage to tie things with three straight goals.
But before the end of the second period, Clutterbuck gave the Aeros another lead when he put a rebound past San Antonio goalie David LeNeveu.
It’s what happened immediately after that probably saved the Aeros later in the game.
“(Keith) Yandle was trying to give me a hard time before then, so after I scored that goal, I skated by their bench and said something to him,” Clutterbuck said. “And then all of the sudden their whole bench was appalled by the fact that I skated by and said something.”
This is where the part about being an agitator – and being good at it – helped Clutterbuck and the Aeros eke out a win.
“They were just all over me the rest of the game,” Clutterbuck said.
And they were.
Early in the third period, there was a fracas near the benches and Clutterbuck drew several penalties giving the Aeros back-to-back power plays.
They converted the second with a much-needed goal by Erik Reitz. That score was critical as the Rampage would tie the game with four-tenths of a second to go.
Clutterbuck realizes his days of being able to score at will are over, but he does appreciate the kind of hockey he was able to experience in juniors.
A year ago, he played on a line with then-16-year-old John Tavares, who is picked by many to be one of the first picks taken in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Through Sunday, Tavares had recorded 26 points in 11 OHL games, this coming after his 134-point campaign a year ago.
“Playing with him really helped my offensive game and it really gave me some confidence,” Clutterbuck said. “And I played with another guy that got drafted by Colorado, Brett MacLean.
“We were really the go-to guys on the team and I think playing with him really helped my polish my game that way too. It worked out and I could not have asked for better linemates in juniors.”
But now, Clutterbuck is playing with Foster, Voros and veterans Serge Payer and Steve Kelly. He knows his job with the Aeros, and got some good feedback from the Minnesota Wild after being assigned to the Aeros during training camp in St. Paul, Minn.
“They told me exactly what they wanted from me and what their expectations were,” Clutterbuck said, referring to the Wild. “I had a good camp, but they told me that I wasn’t ready to make the team out of training camp, which is fine.
“They told me to keep playing the way I did in training camp and there could be an opportunity for me to get called up in the future.”
He scored his first professional goal on his first professional shot in his first professional game, but wasn’t quite able to enjoy it.
He was credited with the Aeros’ first goal of the year – on the power play – in the team’s home opener against the Chicago Wolves on Oct. 6 at Toyota Center.
Erik Reitz’ shot hit the shaft of his stick and went in, but the goal was originally given to Reitz, making his tie-breaker in San Antonio even more special.
“It was nice to put that second one in myself,” Clutterbuck quipped. “To actually know that it is possible for me to score when I shoot the puck at the net instead of just standing there and hope that things hit me.”
Well, the Aeros and Wild certainly don’t mind if he gets in the way every now and then. After all, that just might be how he gets to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NHL.
Andrew J. Ferraro is a freelance writer/announcer based in Houston, Texas. He has been covering the Aeros for the Houston Chronicle since 2002.