Ryane Clowe brings it all to Sharks

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Ryane Clowe was born in the wrong decade.

He should have been recording Gordie Howe hat tricks when Gordie was still playing. Clutch goal? Big hit? Timely fight? Check marks across the board with this dude.

He's a throwback.

"To me, you can be respected and feared at the same time," Sharks GM Doug Wilson told ESPN.com on Friday. "The Larry Robinson or Bob Nystrom type. And Ryane is like that. He plays face up. He won't hit you from behind or the side. He hits you man to man, which I have great respect for. If you want to fight, he'll fight. He just loves to play the game."

Clowe had to love it enough to chase his dream. The son of a snow crab fisherman in Canada's Newfoundland, Clowe has gone from undrafted junior in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to one of the NHL's premier power forwards.

Oh, it wasn't overnight. There were three years in the AHL learning his craft, then another learning curve once he got to the big show. But 10 years after the Sharks cleverly took a flier on him at 175th overall in the NHL draft, the 28-year-old Clowe has made the long journey from long-shot prospect to pivotal member of a Cup-contending team.

"He deserves all the credit," Wilson said. "This is a guy that nothing has ever been given to him. You like this type of story, a player that took longer but through hard work has become a dominant force in this league. He is certainly one of our most important players and one of our most respected voices in the room. He's a heck of a hockey player."

Clowe is showing that this spring, with four goals and seven points in four playoff games. And a few bodychecks in between. He says he loves this time of year.

"I always admired a guy like Claude Lemieux, who always stepped up and raised his game come playoffs," Clowe told ESPN.com on Friday.

On a line with Logan Couture and Dany Heatley, Clowe's unit has terrorized the Los Angeles Kings in their Western Conference quarterfinal series, one that can end Saturday night with a Game 5 victory by the Sharks.

"He's a lot of fun to play with," Heatley said Friday. "He's so strong on the puck along the wall. He brings guys to him, holds guys off and creates a lot of room for his linemates. Obviously, he's had a great playoff this year."

Credit Sharks coach Todd McLellan for seeing the fit between Clowe and rookie Couture at the start of the season. The pair has been together most of the season and has struck terrific chemistry. Heatley was added in the second half, and the line has been a constant.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Clowe takes it upon himself to protect Couture, in particular.

"I'm Papa Bear this year for him, but it's just a part of my game," Clowe said with a smile. "I take it personally when guys take liberties on teammates."

He also took it personally when the Sharks hit rock bottom in January. In the midst of a season-long six-game losing streak that frayed some nerves in these parts, Clowe blew his lid after a Jan. 3 loss against Vancouver.

"When you work hard and you win, you feel it after a game," Clowe said at the time. "And I guarantee you right now, there's guys who don't feel that tired after this game. It's just terrible."

Not every player can get away with that, but Clowe has earned the right in that dressing room to speak his mind.

"It's not for the outside world. It's the same thing he says in the room," Wilson said. "He speaks from his heart. He plays with his heart."

Clowe said Friday that he usually doesn't lose it like that in front of the media.

"I don't usually speak my mind like that in front of a camera, I'm more behind closed doors, but I don't regret anything," he said. "I said what I had to say. I think the guys respected that. They know I'll tell them face to face first before and they respect that."

The Sharks value that leadership, which is why they stitched an "A" on his jersey at the start of this season.

"He deserved it," Wilson said. "Within our group and our dynamic, it's not just what you say, but it's what you do. You don't have to be wordy to speak volumes."

Being made an alternate captain touched Clowe.

"It meant a lot," he said. "I think it meant more to me because San Jose gave me an opportunity when they drafted me. I worked my way up. I've been with this organization since day one and I take pride in that. To be rewarded with a leadership role was special."

The sacrifices are all in the name of one goal. The big prize. Daniel Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings was the first Newfoundland native to bring the Stanley Cup home in 2008. Clowe admits he's daydreamed of doing the same thing.

"It's hard not to after seeing the support Dan got and the parade and everything," Clowe said. "When you bring it home to a whole province, it was pretty crazy. We've got a pretty good opportunity this year for Newfoundland with [Michael] Ryder in Boston and Cleary again in Detroit. Hopefully somebody brings it home, and hopefully that somebody is me."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.