"Playing in the NHL is a privilege and playing for the Panthers was just that." How many players in the last ten years have let slip such words about playing for this seemingly moribund franchise?
Those who have interacted with Scott Clemmensen, ("Clemmer," or "Clem," to fans) would expect nothing but the class he showed in a recent interview with George Richards of the Miami Herald. So, as it appears he has possibly reached the end of his NHL career - almost certainly that of his days with the Cats, lets look back at what he has done for the Panthers, and send him off in style as he ponders what comes next.
Clemmensen is a supremely talented man, and as noted in this clip, the first person born and raised in Iowa to play in the NHL. But far more than just a great goaltender, Clemmer's humble and appreciative character seeps through every interview he does. His Boston College teammate Brooks Orpik said about him: "His biggest attribute is he's a real humble guy." His coach at BC, the legendary Jerry York, was recently quoted in the New England Hockey Journal talking about him: "Scott was a great character guy around the locker room from freshman to senior year." He also stated about his former NCAA champion goaltender: "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." Here is Clemmer reflecting on his time playing in the USHL for his hometown Des Moines, Iowa team:
For the Panthers and their relationship with him, it may be fitting to start at the end, for Clemmer's last game with the Cats truly sums up what this poised and classy man has played through for this franchise: a 4-2 loss to the Islanders where he saw 40 shots against and posted a .900 save percentage, as a 36-year old. In 9 of the 14 games he started this season for the Panthers, he faced over 30 shots against. Being a Panthers goalie could certainly lead to some extreme "career" changes:
Clemmer came to the Cats in the 2010 offseason, signing as a free agent after posting an exceptional showing replacing an injured Martin Brodeur with New Jersey in 2008-09. In 40 games with the Devils he posted a .917 save percentage and a 2.39 GAA before becoming an unrestricted free agent. In his first season with the team he put up a respectable 2.91 GAA and .912 save percentage in 23 games backing up Thomas Vokoun. In the Panthers' terrible 2010-11 season he played 31 games and put up an equally respectable .911 save percentage and 2.62 GAA.
But if there was a high point of Scott Clemmenson's time with the Panthers, it is the 3 games he played for them against his former team, the Devils in the 2011-12 NHL Playoffs. The Panthers first trip to the post season in 10-years saw starter Jose Theodore dealing with a minor injury. This was nothing new for Clemmer. Theodore had dealt with injuries throughout that season and the career back-up played 30 regular season games for the Panthers that season, posting a .913 save percentage and 2.57 GAA. But in those 3 playoff games, where he faced 88 shots against, he posted a .920 save percentage and 2.35 GAA. Two of his 3 games were losses, but Clemmer played hard, with his GAA and save percentage nearly equaling or besting Theodore.
Clemmer came into game 3 and stole a 4-3 victory for the Panthers in the first game at New Jersey. Theodore would give up 3 goals against on 6 shots before Clemmensen entered the game and posted a 19 shots against shut-out to secure the win. Video highlights:
In game 4, Clemmer would face 27 shots and let in 4 goals, 2 of which came on New Jersey power plays. The Panthers were shut out in that game. Certainly one he, and more probably the team, may want to forget, but video highlights (all for Devils):
In game 6, Clemmer took a 3-2 overtime loss, while facing 42 shots against. Video highlights:
While he may be best remembered for his contributions in the 2011-12 playoff series, Clem is also a player who has always shown an enormous amount of class. Here he is after a 2-1 loss in Detroit April 1, 2012 talking of the privilege of playing in the NHL, in a classic building, and of what he acknowledges is expected of him:
In typical Clem fashion, he understands what is expected of him and how he must play in the back-up role, and he embraces it. Certainly (while he would never say or likely even think it) it is an unfair circumstance that surrounds his career that he is not the type of player who will often be given a second chance. That is the nature of professional sports and Clem does not complain about it, instead he relishes the "privilege" of playing. As quoted in New England Hockey Journal (NEHJ), Clem stated: "I know what I got here and I appreciate what I got here. I'll carry that attitude wherever I go." His modesty is easily noted as well in this interview:
So maybe giving kudos to Tyler Plante was taking it a bit far, but Clem is that type of player. He has never been anything but an excellent teammate, an excellent community member, and an excellent Panther who never took playing in a non-traditional market for granted. For some, like Nathan Horton or maybe Kris Versteeg, they wanted out of this market and had difficulty taking the team and community seriously. By contrast, Clemmensen told NEHJ: "The quickest way to having a job you like is to take pride in what you do no matter what it is." Here he is speaking to the media after the playoff loss to the Devils and before signing his final contract to stay with the Panthers for less money:
Clemmer's parting words are as from the heart as ever: "I played with a tremendous amount of guys in my five years and I don't know whats going to happen in the future. I'm taking it one day at a time and appreciating everything. I'm taking it all in. Regardless of what happens, I'll look back and know I laid it all on the line. I'll have no regrets."
I am sure we all wish him nothing but success in whatever he takes on next, and I will take this opportunity to say, from all of us in Panther fan land: Thank you Scott, for your work ethic, hard play, and professionalism, your easy connection with the fans, and your humble character, and in the words of Ray Liotta from that ghost movie about another sport set in your home state of Iowa: "You were good."