May 25, 2014

ProFile: Clemmensen thrives even in backup role

By Bob Snow


Scott Clemmensen made his parents and BC fans proud by backstopping the Eagles to the 2001 national championship. (Boston College Athletic Communications)

This season, it was March 5 at 3 p.m.

Angst time. 

The hours that encompass the day before and up to the annual NHL trade deadline.

That time each year when every NHL player — without a no-trade clause — sweats through the potential for career and life upheaval.

It’s the business end of being a professional on the frozen sheet.

On March 4, one of the biggest bombshells was Vancouver trading goaltender Roberto Luongo back to the Florida Panthers, whose goaltending tandem of Tim Thomas and backup Scott Clemmensen was surely due for an immediate shakeup.

Five days earlier, Clemmensen told New England Hockey Journal, “There’s only one thing I know about this business: ‘You never know.’ One day I’m in the minors and the next day I’m playing 40 games when Marty Brodeur goes down with an injury.”

That was back in 2008 when he was called up from the AHL to achieve the distinction of the second-most wins in a season (25) in Devils history when he went 25-13-1 during a Brodeur elbow injury. 

He was awarded New Jersey’s Unsung Hero Award for that performance — another chapter in his roller-coaster career.

A few hours after the Luongo trade that had potentially major implications for Clemmensen’s career, he said, “That saying is never more true than right now. I’m not even sure what today means to me. I’ll wait it out and see what happens tomorrow.”

Tomorrow came on March 5 at 3 p.m.  Clemmensen was shipped back to San Antonio of the AHL after the Panthers moved Thomas to Dallas for backup netminder Dan Ellis at the deadline.

“Your career is carved out for you,” he said after going 6-6-1 this season as Thomas’ backup. “You get in where you fit in. I know what I got here and I appreciate what I got here. I’ll carry that attitude wherever I go.”

Way back in 1998, Clemmensen’s NCAA career began with a perfect fit — at Boston College where he helped lead the Eagles to three titles games in 1998, 2000 and 2001.

Clemmensen left the Heights with the 2001 national championship his senior year, earned in his last collegiate game, a scintillating 3-2 overtime win over North Dakota, giving BC its second overall national title and first since 1949.

It capped a historic run for Clemmensen, while establishing BC as a perennial powerhouse.

 
 
Clemmensen posted an .894 save percentage and 2.67 goals against average while at BC, where he still holds the career record for victories (69). (BC Athletic Communications)

Since then, his 13 consecutive professional seasons have established Clemmensen as one of the most consistent backup goaltenders in NHL history, first backing up Brodeur in New Jersey, then Tomas Vokoun and  Thomas in Florida.

“He’s quietly accomplished a long NHL career,” BC coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) said about his former netminder. “There is no reason why it can’t be many more years.”

Clemmensen compiled 99 college wins and still holds the Frozen Four record for career saves with 208.

“Scott was a great character guy around the locker room from freshman to senior year,” York said. ”What he brought to the team was what a lot of people don’t see — a lot of support and stability that all teams need.”

The articulate 36-year-old Clemmensen has been all of that in New Jersey and Florida. “You need to understand the role you’re put in,” Clemmensen said.

Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik helped hold the BC fort with Clemmensen for three years. “His biggest attribute is he’s a real humble guy,” Orpik said about Clemmensen’s NCAA and NHL careers. “He’s exactly the same off the ice as on. He’s about as low-key as it gets. Nothing rattles him. As a goalie, that’s huge. I think he likes to fly under the radar.”

“It’s not my personality to pout or complain or be a distraction,” Clemmensen offered. “It’s all about being ready and your mental state. The quickest way to having a job you like is to take pride in what you do no matter what it is.”

Clemmensen’s takes much pride in his “job” — guarding the most precious 24 square feet in the game. It’s his cubicle, a good simile or metaphor for the Iowa native’s genesis for success.

“I’m sitting there my senior year weeks from graduation in a finance class,” Clemmensen reflected. “The professor says: ‘So in a couple of months from now when you are working for your company in your cubicle finding the equation for whatever, you can tell them this is the equation.’

“I’m thinking: ‘Wow, I have to sit in a cubicle with a desk and crunch numbers all day. Maybe that’s the case down the road, but hopefully I can prolong that as long as possible. Maybe I can play professionally for a couple years and put that off.’”

Clemmensen’s office continues to be that 24 square-feet cubicle 13 years later.

His total career NHL wins thus far is just 71, while earning well over $1 million each of the past five seasons.

“Honestly, I did not have an NHL expectation even when I was drafted (215th overall in 1997). I never dreamed that until maybe my senior year of college. Then I learned so much from Marty (Brodeur), and knew I was not going to play much. The (early) jump back and forth in the minors allowed me to develop more and be prepared to play in the NHL.

“Nobody grows up saying I want to be a backup goalie in the NHL. For my career, it has played itself out like that. I think I played the hand I was dealt pretty well.”

How does Clemmensen talk about his next cubicle when his career in the 24-square-foot one is finally over? “When I retire I hope they compare me to a Johan Hedberg; I admire his career,” he said about the longtime backup in Pittsburgh, Atlanta and New Jersey from 1998-2013.

“Something in the business field,” he said comfortably about a possible future. “Hopefully something in the Saratoga (New York) area in marketing the horse racing at the track that’s big there. I’ll probably stay away from the hockey field. It’s just tough on you and your family moving around all the time. Each day that goes by, that cubicle comes closer and closer.”

As for BC’s ongoing success that includes multiple Frozen Four appearances, Clemmensen said, “I was at BC yesterday to talk to the team. I tried to convey what a 36-year-old Scott Clemmensen would tell to a 20-year-old Scott Clemmensen. ‘Be confident, realize what you’ve got right now and have no regrets. The most fun in college was playing in April.’

“ ‘You gotta take it one game at a time and have fun.’ ”

Clemmensen has been doing that quite well for 17 straight seasons. 

Bob Snow writes for NHL.com. This segment completes his four-part special for the New England Hockey Journal into the 2014 Frozen Four about an accomplished Division 1 player at a New England college who is succeeding in the NHL­.

This article originally appeared in the April edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.

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