Posted by: trevormeers | February 12, 2012

Does This Moustache Make Me Look Tough, eh?

Oh, you find this look a little less than intimidating, do you? Go out on the ice and say that.

This being my first NHL game, I couldn’t tell whether they were putting me on with this whole Cal Clutterbuck thing. I came into the Minnesota Wild game in Saint Paul with really only these items on my hockey resume:

–       Skated on ice three times, climbing to the lofty skill level where my wife said, “You’re a lot less awkward than when we got married.”
–       Played tuna-can hockey on the creek ice with driftwood sticks and hiking boots.
–       Saw Youngblood twice about 15 years apart and found it pretty awesome.

None of that added up to enough perspective to decide whether Clutterbuck was for real. While my group of business partners enjoyed a pre-game dinner of fried walleye at the Iron Range Grill inside the Xcel Energy Center, I noticed a lot of Wild jerseys walking by with the name “Clutterbuck” stitched on the back. I asked the local guy which players I should watch for in tonight’s game.

“Probably Clutterbuck,” he said. “He’s a fan favorite. He’s, uh, aggressive.”

Cal Clutterbuck? If you submitted a short story to an editor with a character carrying that name, you’d be sent back to make up something that didn’t seem so… made up. I thought Rob Lowe’s name of “Dean Youngblood” was bad enough in the movie about the, uh, young hockey player who tends to get his blood up. But, sure enough, when we grabbed our seats in the eighth row (thanks, high-ranking New York business colleague!), there was Cal Clutterbuck, zipping around, not 20 yards away.

I’ve always liked the general idea of hockey. It has roots on frozen lakes. Between periods, the Wild’s giant video board shows photos of vintage hockey players with a group of hearty men singing about life in the “The State of Hockey” in a chorus that sounds for all the world like a bunch of guys at deer camp. Hockey also has the attractive trait of not being the NBA. And when the guys who play hockey appear on TV, their voices always make me think they’d be just as content to skip out on tomorrow’s game and go fish for northern or tear down the diesel snowplow out in the shop.

I hate to say this to all the kids learning geography out there, but I just learned Minnesota's real name.

Except for Clutterbuck. If he weren’t on the ice and wearing an NHL uniform, he seems like the guy who would be toiling away down in Accounts Receivable. He sports a floppy brown haircut and a moustache that’s somewhere between an Old West gunslinger and bedraggled tax accountant. He’s a 24-year-old pro athlete who’s seemingly going on 50. But he’s from the same vein as Iowa State’s own Jeff Hornacek, who looked like the first guy you’d choose to guard in a pick-up game at the Y, but spent more than a decade torching NBA defenders. Cal, according to Wikipedia, holds the NHL record for number of hits in a season. It seems strange to track something so integral to the game; it’d be like the NFL officially recording every time a wide receiver makes a fool of himself.

Clutterbuck’s disarming look and reputation for aggression fit my limited experience with hockey. When I was in my early 20s, I knew a guy who moved to Nebraska from hockey country and regularly urged me to come join his buddies in early-morning pick-up on the ice down at the state fairgrounds. The fact was, I’d nearly died every time we had roller-skating outings in elementary school, and I’d never worn a pair of hockey skates at that time in life.

Don't tell me I don't know hockey. If it couldn't be learned from two hours of watching Lowe, Swayze and that other really intense guy, it ain't worth knowing.

I didn’t need a mullet to know what was happening here. The guy inviting me to the ice was maybe 5’8”. I’m 6’4”. This was clearly a game of Level the Big Oaf. All I saw when I envisioned myself at early-morning hockey was a giant piñata pinned against the boards, absorbing the body checks of shift after shift of fast guys on razor blades who were finally getting in their licks.

Which brings us back to Clutterbuck. By the time we came to the third period in Saint Paul, the Wild was down 4-2 to the Vancouver Canucks, and things had obviously gotten under Clutterbuck’s skin. When I looked down to grab another cinnamon mini-donut from the bag on my lap (thanks again, high-ranking New York business colleague!), I heard the crowd roar, and people stood up around me. Looking up, I saw Clutterbuck at center ice with his helmet off. His gloves went flying as he started circling a guy in a white jersey whose gloves were skittering across the ice 10 yards away, too.

On the way to the arena, I’d asked the locals, “Hasn’t the NHL really cleaned up the fighting?” “Uh, no,” the guy said. And here we were.

Players and refs alike pulled back, giving Cal Clutterbuck and Maxim Lapierre (seriously, what marketing guy assigns these names?) a wide berth. Clutterbuck looked tiny as he skated toward the 6’2” Lapierre, but I looked up later that Cal actually stands 5’10”. Clutterbuck’s hair flopped over one side of his face, his moustache drooped over a mouth set in a firm line. He worked his fists forward and backward, limbering up like a pugilist in a Yukon bar.

Our man squares off with the invader from Vancouver.

I knew from Youngblood that the key to a hockey fight is getting the other guy’s jersey over his head. But neither Clutterbuck nor the evil Lapierre could gain that kind of leverage. Lapierre’s reach dwarfed Clutterbuck’s, and I figured the local sparkplug was going to wind up bloody. But you don’t become a hockey folk hero because you lose fights.

Both men jabbed their left arms into the others’ shoulder, leaving their right hands free to jab. But with their left arms locked like iron bars between them, neither one could land a punch, not even the long-armed Lapierre. This went on for 30 seconds or so, the men jammed up like bull elk with antlers locked. Finally, two refs skated in and declared what I believe the rulebook refers to as “lame fight.” They pulled the men apart and sent them to their respective penalty boxes for five minutes for “major misconduct.”

The third period soon wound down, with Clutterbuck and Lapierre watching most of it from behind Plexiglas. When they returned, it was 5-2, Canucks, and Clutterbuck wasn’t taking it easily. With 18.6 seconds to go, I saw his gloves fly across the ice again, and he locked up with another Canuck deep in the corner. The refs obviously had dinner reservations, because they were having none of it this time. They sent Cal and a couple of Canucks to the locker room for “game misconduct,” and the clock ran out.

I would imagine Clutterbuck headed straight for the ice tub. He had the next game to look forward to, which means looming fisticuffs with an opponent named—I have no doubt—something like I.M. LeVillain.

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Responses

  1. Good story Trevor, but I have to admit, when I saw the headline, I was really hoping it was YOU rocking a thick ‘stache. That would have raised the bar tremendously for me. Mustaches always make me laugh because they are so cheesy….No man after “Magnum PI” went off the air in the 80’s should be wearing a mustache unless he lost a bet.

  2. Great names…so was this a hockey game or a Garrison Keilor skit for PHC? And you thought Buck Hawkins was bad…should’ve been NHL player.


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