Rich Clune woke up Thursday morning with the same goals as recently.
The 35-year-old highly respected Marlies captain and longtime pugilist went to Fortis Fitness in Toronto with his fiancee, Isabel, to train, as he has done several times a week this summer. He then meets his father to help him, as he always wants to do, in his work as a general contractor.
“Not very glamorous,” he joked.
And yet Thursday was not a day like any other for Clune. Instead, it ended Clune’s professional hockey career, which began in 2007, when he officially announced his retirement.
“I always tried to play as hard as I could so that when that moment came I had no regrets,” Clune said. Athleticism. “And I’m really proud to be able to say that.”
The goals Clune had when he woke up on Thursday, to improve himself and help others, will make his playing career a natural transition to what follows. Clune will begin working as a member of the Maple Leafs development staff on August 15.
Over the past few months, Clune has weighed the decision to retire. A conversation with Jason Spezza last summer, who also retired from the Leafs this summer to become special assistant to Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas, helped Clune come to terms at least in part with his decision to take his retirement. Spezza encouraged Clune, who signed a one-year contract with the AHL last season, to play the season by “leaving everything on the table.”
And he did. Clune has looked full of energy throughout the season, scoring four goals and 12 points, the most since his first season with the Marlies in 2015-16, while leaning into his role as captain and being increasingly more of a guiding voice for younger players.
Clune was a player who never shied away from the physical aspect of the game. In the last game of his career, on April 30, he came out strong against Belleville Senators forward Scott Sabourin.
At the end of that season, Clune said he physically felt like he could return to professional hockey. But emotionally? Another story.
“I was assessing my emotional state and trying to see that if the possibility of not playing professional hockey presented itself, how would I react? In the past two months, I haven’t lost any sleep. It didn’t keep me awake at night,” Clune said.
Clune was perhaps surprised that he didn’t feel “sad or depressed” about not playing anymore.
“And I guess that’s an indication, right?” he said.
Slowly, throughout the summer, which included a vacation in Hawaii when he proposed to Isabel, he made the decision to retire.
Still, stepping away from the game altogether wasn’t an option for Clune, who lives in Toronto’s East End.
“At the end of the day, with my love for Toronto and my love for the Maple Leafs and the Marlies organization, I just didn’t want to continue playing in another city or another country,” he said. .
Almost simultaneously, Clune was offered a role on the organization’s player development staff, to offer what Maple Leafs assistant general manager Ryan Hardy called “invaluable support and guidance.” Clune’s career ended with 139 NHL games and 593 AHL games. Clune said being part of the Marlies 2018 Calder Cup was a career highlight.
“But honestly, every day I came into the arena, I tried to cherish every moment,” he said. “I’ve met so many people along the way from all walks of life.”
Clune’s transition to the player development team is part of an ongoing effort by the Leafs to integrate recently retired players into the organization, whether it’s Spezza or assistant general manager Hayley Wickenheiser, with whom Clune will work closely. collaboration in his new role.
Clune has captained the Marlies for the past two seasons. His propensity to make himself available to young players and hold long conversations became well known at the Coca-Cola Coliseum.
Clune was able to share the experience he gained during a long, devious career. After being drafted in the third round in 2005 by the Dallas Stars, he made his professional debut at the end of the 2006-07 AHL season with the Iowa Stars, playing one game.
After spending the next two seasons in the AHL and ECHL which saw him traded to the Los Angeles Kings organization, Clune would make his NHL debut on February 11, 2010 and then go on to participate in his first NHL fight. two days later against then-Colorado Avalanche winger Cody McLeod.
He would spend the majority of his time with the Kings organization in the AHL, becoming one of the league’s most feared fighters, racking up 253 penalty minutes in 56 games in 2011-12.
Yet it was during this time that Clune battled a well-documented addiction to alcohol and substances, stating in 2018 that “from age 19 to 23, I used as much cocaine as possible.”
“I just tried to escape my own mind,” he said in 2018.
When claimed off waivers by the Nashville Predators in January 2013, he had his longest NHL stints, leading the Predators with 166 penalty minutes in 2013-14 despite only playing 58 games that season.
After being signed by the rebuilding Leafs prior to the 2015-16 season, Clune spent 15 games with the Leafs. In his first season with the Marlies in 2015-16, his gloves didn’t stay up as he totaled 146 penalty minutes in 49 games. Yet from then on, his time in the penalty area diminished.
When the AHL introduced a rule before the 2016-17 season that would see players suspended with their 10th fight of the season, a rule aimed at reducing fights, Clune’s penalty totals were hit. From 2016-17 to 2018-19, his average penalty minutes per game dropped each season, and by the time he played his final game as Marlie, his penalty minute totals per game never fell again. reached the heights they had when he came. to the organization, even upstream.
But it was a change Clune wasn’t running away from.
Some of the people closest to Clune, whether it was then-Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe or Clune’s agent Rick Curran, helped Clune “channel” his interest in dropping the gloves to become more efficient when playing between whistles.
There were times this past season when Clune’s attacking instincts were much more noticeable than they were in previous seasons. While it might be difficult for older players to make changes to their game, it was a trap Clune never wanted to fall into. He became fascinated with how different players approached the game and wanted to offer his own experience to all curious young gamers.
“Hockey is moving at a rapid pace,” Clune said. “Every day it changes. And it’s a different game than it was when I came on the scene. I am lucky to be surrounded by people who have helped me and allowed me to stay in the game and at the level where I was.
Being able to adapt to a changing game is a skill, and it’s part of what could make Clune a valuable addition to the Leafs development team.
But it shouldn’t be assumed that Clune’s role will see him target the Leafs’ young prospects and help them figure out how to become more physical players.
While Clune will indeed work with players during on-ice sessions as part of his new role, what could also benefit young Leafs prospects is his openness to mental illness and how to improve one’s own. mental health of a player.
Mental health was one of the focal points of the 2020 documentary about him, ‘Hi my name is Dicky’.
And if he’s able to help the Leafs’ young prospects better understand mental illness, he could end up making them more complete people and players.
“I’ve been blessed to be coached by some amazing coaches over my years. And so I’ve just been able to absorb a wealth of knowledge from every single person I’ve been around and I think in immediate future, I’m just going to try to work as hard as I can and try to rub off on the players,” Clune said.
His goal, as always, is to continue to stay “student” and to learn more about the evolution of the game of hockey and to improve.
As it always has been.
“I think as leaders improve, your organization and the players have the ability to improve,” Clune said. “So I just want to keep working on myself and then be of service to everyone I have the privilege of working with.”
(Photo: Jonathan Tenca/Cal Sport Media via AP Images)