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Clymer makes most of chance given him

Lightning wing has overcome a poor preseason.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 21, 2002

Lightning wing has overcome a poor preseason.

NEW YORK -- When coach John Tortorella met with Ben Clymer before the Lightning's season opener against the Panthers, it was to let the right wing know he had gotten his foot in the door.

Clymer let Tortorella know he planned to knock it wide open.

As the story goes, when Tortorella told Clymer he would start on the line centered by Brad Richards because of Fredrik Modin's groin strain, the coach added for emphasis, "You need to make the most of this opportunity.

Replied Clymer, "You won't be able to take me out of the lineup."

"This isn't a sport with a whole lot of communication with coaches, and I wanted to tell him how I felt," Clymer said. "So far, I haven't given him that choice."

In fact, when Modin returned Friday for Game 3 against the Thrashers, Clymer kept his position and has continued to get time on the power play.

So as the Lightning prepares for tonight's game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, about the only matter Tortorella is considering, as far as Clymer is concerned, is how to get the Bloomington, Minn., native more ice time.

"You can't take Ben Clymer out of the lineup right now," he said.

That is even more noteworthy because Clymer had what even he concedes was a disappointing preseason. It was so below expectations, speculation was he was the last player to secure a roster spot.

Clymer said he did not believe things were that dire. Still, no one from the Lightning denied it.

"I knew what (reporters) were writing," Clymer said. "But I wasn't going to let it bother me."

Instead, as general manager Jay Feaster said, "Ben grabbed the opportunity by the throat."

Clymer, 24, got his first points of the season during Saturday's 3-3 tie with the Penguins. His second-period goal tied the score at 1, and he assisted on Dan Boyle's third-period goal that finished the scoring.

Clymer skates well, and his willingness to use his 6-foot-1, 198-pound body along the boards has helped him fit well into Tampa Bay's high-energy, puck-pursuit, forecheck-like-crazy scheme.

"And if he arrives in an unpleasant disposition," Feaster said, "he hits and hits hard."

"I've been happy with the way things have been going the first few games," said Clymer, second on the team last season with 123 hits. "To play and contribute and to be part of three victories, it's been great."

Where was all of this during preseason? That still is a mystery.

"You hate to say training camp is training camp," Clymer said. "It didn't go as well as I wanted, but I wasn't going to dwell on it. I just wanted the season to start I guess."

Some of the expectations of Clymer grew as a result of last season, when he, in his first full season after converting from defense, scored 14 goals.

Feaster said he is convinced Clymer can score between 15 and 20 because his consistency likely will increase as he gains experience at the position and his shot is much better than perceived. Even Clymer said, "Shooting the puck all the time is something I have to get better at."

"He works very hard," Richards said. "I think he can create a little more offensively sometimes. So maybe if he took a few more shots, we could gather up some rebounds."

The Lightning hopes Clymer continues to gather momentum. He has plenty of incentive.

"It is gratifying," Feaster said of Clymer's play. "I think Ben can contribute a lot to this team. But he knows that if he wants to stay in the lineup, he has to bring it every night."

Getting a foot caught in a door can be very painful.

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