Clune Ready For Transition to Pro Game
Saturday, 07.28.2007 / 10:30 PM / Feature
By John Tranchina
Richard Clune plays the type of hard-nosed, body-banging game that is destined to make him a fan favorite in Dallas for years to come.
The physical left-winger, in town this past week participating in the Stars’ development camp at their Dr Pepper StarCenter practice facility in Frisco, is a high-energy player who will be embarking on his first professional season in 2007-08 after four years playing junior hockey in Canada (OHL).
Clune’s style of play will also be somewhat familiar to Stars fans, as two of the three players he identified as guys he tries to emulate are current Dallas mainstays.
“I grew up in Toronto and Gary Roberts was always a pretty good player that I liked to play like,” the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Clune said of the current Pittsburgh winger. “He’s pretty honest and he works hard. There’s guys I like here, Steve Ott and Brenden Morrow - those are two pretty good players that have established themselves here, so I’ve sort of looked to them to play like. The Dallas organization feels that I have qualities that they possess.”
Stars general manager Les Jackson, who oversees scouting and player development, confirmed that assessment.
“He’s a hard-working player,” Jackson said of Clune. “He’s an energy player, he’s competitive, he plays for the team and plays with a real competitive edge. He’s got an element of toughness and grit.”
Clune, the Stars’ third-round draft choice (number 71 overall) in 2005, even looks like the stereotypical tough hockey player, complete with his two top front teeth missing.
“Yeah, they’re in my pocket, actually,” he laughed. “I lost them one at a time through hockey, so I guess I look the part.”
And if you need any further evidence of his on-ice demeanor, just ask him whether or not he’ll continue to wear a visor on his helmet, which is mandatory in junior hockey but not in the pros.
“There won’t be any visor,” Clune responded without hesitation. “I’ll be the guy going around giving people a hard time for wearing the visor. I’m definitely not a visor player.”
But for all his grit, Clune, 20, also possesses plenty of skill to play the game, posting three straight 20-goal, 100-penalty minute seasons in junior. Last year with Barrie of the OHL, he recorded personal bests by scoring 32 goals and 78 points in 67 games, to go along with his team-leading 151 PIM. He also added three goals and seven points in eight post-season contests.
He does acknowledge, however, that he has a lot to work on in order to continue his progress as he prepares for his first year of pro hockey.
“I think in my situation, you always want to improve every aspect of the game - skating, puck-handling, strength and conditioning,” Clune admitted. “I’m pretty much looking to improve every area of my game, not just one in particular.”
While Clune will likely skate for the Stars primary American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa this coming year, it won’t be his first taste of the pro game.
After his junior season ended last April, Clune joined the Iowa Stars and skated in their final regular season game. While with the AHL club throughout it’s impressive post-season run, Clune did not suit up again, but just being there as part of the team was extremely important.
“I was up around the team in Iowa in playoffs and I got to know a lot of the other guys really well,” Clune noted. “It was great. It just makes things a lot more, not easier, but you’re not so overwhelmed when you go (this year). Your head’s not spinning around, you know what it’s like, the city. It’s a nice town, it’s pretty quiet, and you know what it’s like to kind of be around the rink and the routine that the guys go through. It was really helpful. I didn’t play any games in the playoffs, but not playing is probably better than not being there, so it was really helpful for me.”
Even with that knowledge and experience, it will be a challenging transition.
“For a first-year pro, for lots of players coming in, going to the American Hockey League is a big step,” Jackson cautioned.
“Everyone just says it’s that next step - everyone’s bigger, stronger, faster, and you have to bear down and show you’re committed,” Clune said.
Based on what he’s shown to the organization so far, proving his commitment shouldn’t be a problem. With the development camp concluding on Saturday, Clune planned to return home to Toronto to continue his off-season conditioning program and prepare for training camp in September.
“I want to come into camp in my best shape possible,” Clune said. “I think as a young guy, you can’t really have that issue of being out of shape. There can’t be any red flags like that, so come into camp in the best shape possible. The last two years were kind of a learning experience for me, knowing I was going back to junior. This year, I’ve got a contract, and I’m going to be knocking down the door and sticking my nose in things, doing everything I can to try and get noticed and get my foot in the door.”
Translation: don’t be surprised if Clune ends up in a few fights during scrimmages or pre-season games in an effort to impress upon Stars management that he can take care of business at the next level.
After the steps he’s already taken since they drafted him, the Stars have been pleased with the rate of his development and are hopeful he can continue progressing as a professional.
“He’s made good advancement, he had a real good year last year,” Jackson said. “Going into this year, he’s going to go through the transition to first-year pro, so we’ll have some growing pains. He’s a real determined player, so I think he’ll be an interesting player to watch this year and see how he handles this step and where he takes it.”