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Cloutier changes more than his diet

Lightning goalie, inconsistent and in pain last season, shapes up body, skills.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Mike Heffner]
Dan Cloutier, enjoying ice time at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum last week, is in the best shape of his career because of workouts that made him leaner and more muscular.
BRANDON -- Dan Cloutier is a creature of habit, especially on game day.

The Lightning goaltender said some of that is driven by superstition. But when asked to give a few examples after a recent workout at the Ice Sports Forum, Cloutier politely declined.

That, of course, prompted those around him to press harder.

"On the day of a game," Cloutier finally said, "I eat the same meal. ... Chicken parmigiana, but I usually switch every time I lose."

Then came the punch line.

"I tried a lot of different foods last year."

Give Cloutier credit for finding humor in a season marked by some spectacular play but even more inconsistency. He also played in pain because preseason groin surgery never healed.

Give him credit, too, that he is taking steps to ensure his game day menu will be more consistent.

With veterans scheduled to report to training camp Thursday, the 24-year-old is in the best shape of his career. At 6 feet 1, 195 pounds, he has gained 5 pounds but is leaner and more muscular, the result of summer workouts with head medical trainer Dave Boyer and strength and conditioning coach Brian Peterson.

He also worked extensively on technique with goaltending coach Jeff Reese.

"Do I think he's gone over his checklist this summer? I think he has," coach Steve Ludzik said. "He's in great shape."

That's a smart move on Cloutier's part because the Lightning traded this year's first-round draft pick to the Islanders for goaltender Kevin Weekes. Ludzik said he wouldn't mind if both played 41 games. And, of course, a little competition never hurt anybody.

"I'm not going to have a competition with Kevin Weekes," Cloutier said. "The competition is going to be with myself. ... I have to prove to everybody I can play here.

"I believe I can play here. There's no doubt in my mind I can play here."

The Lightning traded the No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft to get Cloutier from the Rangers. He got the top job early in November when Daren Puppa went down for the season with a back injury.

Cloutier, who Ludzik said has "quickness, a big heart and never gives up on a shot," was a show stopper at times. But he struggled to a 9-30-3 record with a 3.49 goals-against average and a subpar .885 save percentage.

To be fair, the entire team struggled. The defense was young, and with injuries and trades, Tampa Bay suited up a continuity-killing 52 players.

Cloutier also had a secret. His groin, on which he had surgery in April 1999, allowing him three weeks to get in shape before training camp, had not healed.

Boyer said he didn't realize how much the groin bothered Cloutier because the goalie never spoke about it. And Cloutier refused to use it as a excuse.

"I played through it because it didn't bother me that much," Cloutier said.

"If it bothered me that much, I wouldn't have been playing."

But after noting Cloutier's increased flexibility and mobility this summer, Boyer doesn't buy it.

"I think it affected him a ton," Boyer said. "His motion was limited. It was hard to push off when he slid to his right.

"And coming back to his left, it was hard for him to recover that balance to get back there as quick as he wanted."

More to the point, Cloutier said, was his inconsistent play. During a 29-game stretch in which Tampa Bay won twice, Cloutier said, he constantly watched game tapes, looking for something, anything, to turn the tide.

Thinking he had found a key, Cloutier began coming out of the crease more to challenge shooters. A good idea.

The problem was, once out there, Cloutier stood still, making it difficult to react to a pass or a rebound.

To break that tendency, Cloutier is working on sliding back toward the crease after his initial move forward. Reese said that motion will make changing directions easier.

Reese also wants Cloutier, as well as Weekes, to handle the puck more.

"It will help him keep his concentration and be more focused into the game," Reese said.

But Cloutier's best training aid may be Weekes. The 25-year-old, who is much like Cloutier in that he can be spectacular but spotty, will provide the push Cloutier didn't have last season, when his four backups never forced him to look over his shoulder.

"He's going to have someone who can push him," Reese said. "Every game they get, they're going to be fighting to get. They're going to have to play well if they're going to get another game. And when they're not playing, they're going to have to work 10 times harder to get back in the net."

"My goal is eventually to be the guy who is counted on and to be the guy who plays every night," Cloutier said. "I'm going to keep working hard until I get that goal."

Lightning camp

WHERE: Ice Sports Forum, Brandon.

REPORT DATES: Thursday -- veterans. Friday -- rookies.

PRACTICE SCHEDULE: 10 a.m.-noon daily Saturday-Sept. 21, except Sept. 12 and 14, when practice is 8-10 a.m.; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 22-30. Schedule subject to change.

ADMISSION: Free.

PRESEASON SCHEDULE: Sept. 16 -- vs. Carolina Hurricanes at TECO Arena, Estero/Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17 -- vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Ice Palace, 6 p.m. Sept. 19 -- vs. Washington Capitals at Ice Palace, 7 p.m. Sept. 21 -- vs. Florida Panthers at Ice Palace, 7 p.m. Sept. 26 -- vs. Florida Panthers at TECO Arena, Estero/Fort Myers, 7:30 p.m.

INFORMATION: Call the Ice Palace at (813) 301-6500.

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