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Urbandale's Clemmensen finds home in NHL

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Urbandale's Clemmensen finds home in NHL



November 17, 2005

When one of the NHL's elite goaltenders fell victim to injury recently, an Iowan skated into net for the New Jersey Devils.

Urbandale native Scott Clemmensen watched from the bench as NHL all-star Martin Brodeur dropped to the ice in the Devils' late October game against Tampa Bay.

"I knew he'd be coming out of the game," said Clemmensen, the Devils' back-up goalie. "I've seen him get hurt before . . . but I knew this was more serious because play was going on and he wouldn't get up."

Brodeur's knee injury gave Clemmensen an unexpected chance to test his skill against the world's top talent - a unique break for a hockey player from Iowa.

Clemmensen, a product of Des Moines youth hockey, is the lone Iowan playing in the NHL.

He quickly received a promotion to starter last month, and skated in six consecutive NHL games through Nov. 8. Brodeur returned to the Devils' lineup last weekend.

"It was exciting for me to play a stretch of games there as the starting goalie for two weeks," said Clemmensen, now in his fifth pro season. "I've not played consecutive games and I've not been the No. 1 guy very much, especially at the NHL level."

Clemmensen, 28, spent the majority of his professional hockey career with Albany of the AHL, but made the Devils' roster this fall. He has played in eight NHL games this season, quickly surpassing his previous total of six during his first four seasons. According to the NHL Players' Association Web site, he will be paid $450,000 this season.

The goaltender currently carries a 3.32 goals-against average and .882 save percentage. His numbers are better than eight-time all-star Brodeur's 3.45 average and .880 save percentage.

But Clemmensen knows his role remains as backup to Brodeur - winner of the last two Vezina Trophies, awarded annually to the NHL's top netminder.

He also embraces the chance to learn from one of the best.

"Just watching him and how he handles different situations and how he got to be as successful as he has - that's the plus side," Clemmensen said.

"The downside is I'm not going to play a whole lot. No matter what I do I'm not going to supersede him as starting goalie."

Until an unexpected opportunity.

Clemmensen posted a 2-2-2 record in the six games he started in Brodeur's absence.

His toughest challenge came right away, when Brodeur left the Oct. 26 Tampa Bay game injured with 6:50 left in the game.

The Devils were losing to the defending Stanley Cup champions, who also had a 5-on-3 power play when Clemmensen entered the game. He gave up two goals in the final minutes.

"That was probably the toughest situation I've been thrown into as a goalie," Clemmensen said. "They scored during the 5-on-3, then Vincent Lecavalier, one of their best players, had a breakaway.

"It's a lot easier to start from the beginning."

His parents, Jan and Paul Clemmensen, traveled to watch his next game in net for the Devils, an Oct. 28 win over Buffalo.

When they are unable to see games in person, the Clemmensens turn their television to the DirecTV NHL Center Ice package.

"We watch hockey every night, but it's always more interesting when the Devils are on," said Jan Clemmensen, Scott's mom. "We're so happy he's living his dream, which a lot of people don't get to do."

Scott Clemmensen represents Iowa in a league dominated by Canadian-born players and athletes from the East Coast.

He's battled odds throughout his career, including stops in the Iowa High School Hockey League and the Buccaneers in the U.S. Hockey League.

His high school coach, Scott Krueger, said when Clemmensen played in Des Moines, the city's one sheet of ice sat unavailable during the summer months. Hockey coaches didn't have to be certified at the time, and to help his goalies, Krueger brought in former Buccaneers players.

"He probably had one of the toughest roads to get there," Krueger said.

Clemmensen focused on snagging a college scholarship.

He went on to Boston College, where he won the 2001 NCAA title. He holds the school's career records for wins (99) and shutouts (13).

Now he's a novelty - the only NHL player from Iowa.

"I'm definitely proud to be the one, or representative," Clemmensen said.

"When I was young I couldn't relate to anyone making it to the NHL. I just hoped for a college scholarship. I hope kids can realistically and practically visualize that someone from Iowa can go far."

His parents have received some fame around central Iowa as well.

"When I give my name at places around town, they'll ask if I'm related to the hockey player," Jan said.

And Scott Clemmensen hopes for more recognition - to develop an extensive NHL career.

"The next step for me is I want to become a starting goalie, a No. 1 goalie in this league," he said.

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