When Scott Clemmensen signed as a free agent with the New Jersey Devils this offseason, his career came full circle. The 37-year-old netminder began his professional life with the Devils as a 24-year-old in 2001. That season he played two NHL games and 29 with the Devils AHL affiliate, the Albany River Rats.
New Jersey loaned Clemmensen to Albany on Wednesday and he started that same evening against the Hartford Wolf Pack at XL Center. The game was his 401st professional game – 190 in the NHL and 211 in the AHL.
“Having started my career with the Devils organization and playing the majority of my first three seasons here in Albany at Times Union Center, it’s very nostalgic,” Clemmensen said after his first practice with the team Thursday at Knickerbacker Ice Arena. “I have good memories playing for the Albany team and just the area in general.”
Clemmensen stepped into Albany’s lineup after playing the backup role in New Jersey, appearing in two games. On Wednesday, he made 16 saves in his first start at any level since Apr. 18 when his team, the San Antonio Rampage, hosted the Abbottsford Heat.
“I thought he was sharp, especially the five on three that we killed,” said Head Coach Rick Kowalsky. “That was certainly his best of the game. But he hasn’t played a lot. I know with [New Jersey’s] schedule and travel they haven’t had a lot of opportunities to practice, as well. He looked good for his first showing.”
Clemmensen said he doesn’t look at being sent to the AHL with a negative perspective. He will have more time to “get his game in order” while playing and not just practicing.
As for the layover between starts, he believes his 14-year career has prepared him to step in at any time and be ready to play.
“At this point in my career, I’ve kind of carved out that niche for me and I think that is the reason why I’m still playing at age 37,” he said. “So I take some pride in that. Having said that, I believe that a good backup goalie is one that can sit on the bench for long periods of time and get thrown in there and play — among other things.”
Clemmensen, who was a four-year starter at Boston College before turning pro, joins a group of veterans on Albany’s roster who started their careers with the organization, left, and have since returned. The collection of players includes captain Rod Pelley, Mark Fraser and Cam Janssen.
“Once my contract was up with Florida in the offseason, New Jersey was a team I really wanted to return to and play for once again,” Clemmensen said. “Even though I left, I was always kind of a Devil. I always thought it was the one organization that I identified my career with the most.”
Despite that veteran presence, Albany’s roster is still full of up-and-coming players in their early to mid-20s. Clemmensen hopes he can make an impact within the locker room, teaching the younger group the ins and outs of the professional game.
Twenty-two year old Scott Wedgewood, who will share goaltending responsibilities, rode back to Albany after Wednesday’s game with Clemmensen.
“When I was young, I had guys that I looked up to or learned from,” Clemmensen said. “Just being around them every day and that’s how I learned how to be a pro. I thought that was the right way to do things. I have experience in other organizations — some good and some bad. You come back to the Devils organization now where hopefully I’m that older, positive presence on the ice and off the ice as well.”
Entering this season in the AHL, Clemmensen had a 70-107-24 record, a 2.82 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage with more than 12,000 minutes logged. In the NHL, he had a 73-59-23 mark with a 2.77 goals-against average and a.906 save percentage with just under 10,000 minutes played.