Slash and Dash
When he heard Caps coach Glen Hanlon was planning on moving him back to the blueline, a position he had not played regularly in more than five years, Ben Clymer’s mind began racing with possibilities.
“I was just really caught off guard to begin with,” admits Clymer. “I was thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ I was running through all the different scenarios. What if it goes well? What if it goes moderately well? What if it goes horribly, where does that put me? I’m sure glad I have a multi-year contract and they can’t just ship me off to nowhere and forget about me forever. It plays into your insecurities. When I came to camp, Glennie was real good about saying, ‘Just go out and have fun every day. Whatever happens, just go out and have fun and play. Don’t worry about trying to split the atom out there. Just play.’ That allowed me to just go out and just let instinct take over, and not completely freewheel it, but not make it more than it has to be. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. I am old enough and mature enough that if I just go out and do it, I will be fine.”
What started as a four-game “experiment” is now a done deal.
“I think he has played well,” assesses Hanlon. “We watched [Tuesday’s] game [against Philadelphia] live and we watched it again [on tape] and we thought there has been a sharp increase in improvement. The other thing we like is that when we give him some instruction from the defenseman’s side of things, he has reacted to it and he has put it into play, which to me says that he can do it. I don’t want to give the player an out to think that, ‘Okay, if I have a couple bad games I’m going back to forward. But if he comes to me after 10 games and he just doesn’t think that it’s right and he’s not enjoying it, then we’ll re-evaluate it. [Tuesday] night he played 25 :12 and I think his average last year was somewhere in around 15 [minutes].”
Skeptical just weeks ago, Clymer does not sound like a guy who is going to ask for a re-evaulation after 10 games.
“Last game I had a lot of fun,” says Clymer. “It helps when the team wins 6-1, too, because everyone was playing well and it was just a fun game to play period. But yeah, it has been going well. Everyday I pick up a new thing that maybe I forget a few years ago. But in some ways I don’t want to forget all my forward stuff, either. Some of that helps out just to think the game a little bit differently than a lot of defensemen would think. Obviously [it has gone] much better than I would have thought, but that’s good.
“It’s fun. I like having the puck and on [defense] you have it so much more instead of just chasing it all night, which is what you do some nights on the forecheck. You dump it in and you are just chasing the puck. Now you look up, say, ‘Okay, this player is open, I’m going to pass it to him or pass it to this guy.’ You have the puck, you are having a direct outcome on what goes on out there which is fun. I guess if it goes the other way, it stinks. But I like the responsibility of it. I’m looking forward to it.”
Taking a player who was a contributing regular at Washington’s deepest position (wing) and successfully moving him to what most feel is the Capitals’ weakest area could make for a significant change in the team’s complexion and its fortunes for the upcoming season. Hanlon stated that the move would be permanent only if Clymer could establish himself as one of the team’s top four defensemen. The Minnesota native is arguably in the top three on the team’s defensive depth chart at the moment.
For all his worries, Clymer admits that moving from defense to forward as a 22-year-old NHL sophomore in the middle of the 2000-01 season was much tougher than his current transition.
“Oh, it was a thousand times harder,” he says. “It was hard. I had never done it. I just tried to go out and utilize my speed and try to get the puck. And when I had the puck try to hold onto it. And obviously somebody was there trying to take it away from me every time. This is a much easier transition than it was going to forward, just because I hadn’t played forward since I was maybe eight years old.”
This time, Clymer has the benefit of age, maturity, wisdom and several hundred games worth of NHL experience.
“Just my patience with the puck is much different than it was six years ago,” he notes. “I was nervous. You want to stay in the league, you want to make everyone happy. There is a lot of pressure that maybe you are putting on yourself, and factors that aren’t just strictly obvious as far as just trying to making the right play. Your first couple of years, you are worried about getting sent to the minors, or being a healthy scratch the next game, or ‘What’s going to happen if I take a risk and it doesn’t work out?’ That’s not the way to play the game. You should play the game trying to make a difference out there and trying to do good things. Granted, they’re not always going to work. But you try to make calculated risks versus just shooting from the hip. I like it so much better now. And a lot of it too, is that playing for Glennie is much different than playing for the other coaches I’ve had.”
One local scribe wonders how Clymer will be designated in the team’s media guide this season.
“We might go with ‘Slash’ for now,” he says.