New York Islanders' Cal Clutterbuck  checks Edmonton Oilers' Tyson Barrie during...

New York Islanders' Cal Clutterbuck  checks Edmonton Oilers' Tyson Barrie during the second period on Jan. 5, 2023. Credit: AP/Jason Franson

Not surprisingly, Cal Clutterbuck clobbered an opponent on the first shift of his first youth game in which hitting was allowed. The Islanders’ fourth-liner can’t quite remember if he was 8, 9 or 10 years old, but he remembers immediately enjoying the physicality.

“We were playing a team from the U.S.,” said Clutterbuck, from Welland, Ontario. “When we played on our side of the border, there would be contact. When we played on their side of the border, there would be no contact. They came to us and I hit a kid really, really hard on the first shift. From that moment on, I was like, that was fun.”

Clutterbuck, now 35, took that quick detour down memory lane before the Islanders faced the Capitals on Monday night at UBS Arena. It marked his 965th NHL game in his 15th season.

If he can remain healthy, the right wing will play his milestone 1,000th game in April. But more and more, staying healthy has not been a given as he continues to add to his NHL record for hits, which he set Nov. 21.

Clutterbuck has missed 13 games this season, including eight from Dec. 17-Jan. 3. Last season, he was shut down after 59 games for shoulder surgery.

Clutterbuck has never played a full 82 games. (His career high of 78 came in his rookie 2008-09 season with Minnesota, but he has played in at least 73 games in five of his 10 seasons with the Islanders.)

“Things have always hurt a little bit,” Clutterbuck said. “There’s a difference between injuries and bumps and bruises. The bumps and bruises you can deal with. Injuries are a different breed. As far as soreness goes and my body moving, physically I don’t feel much different.”

Clutterbuck has one season remaining on his two-year, $3.5 million deal. He’s working on trying to savor the moments he still has left in his career.

“I could probably do more appreciating, honestly,” he said. “There are times when I can appreciate it. But sometimes being hurt consistently is also frustrating. It’s hard to live in both worlds. But I try to remind myself as much as possible. When this is all said and done, I don’t want to look back and regret not really taking in my last little while. I’m working on it.”

When healthy, Clutterbuck still is an effective contributor on the Islanders’ long-standing fourth line with center Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. He entered Monday with four goals and three assists in 31 games and still can set a tone by getting in quickly on the forecheck.

When asked how his perception of Clutterbuck has changed from being on an opposing bench to now having him on his team, coach Lane Lambert responded with a wry smile.

“When I coached against him, the impression was that you better keep your head up when he’s on the ice,” said Lambert, a member of Barry Trotz’s staff with the Capitals from 2014-18. “He plays the game for keeps, period.

“When I got here, you learn the little intricacies of their game. One of the most intelligent players I’ve coached in terms of position, understanding where to be. Recognizing danger, if you will, at times. Nothing changed in terms of physicality.

“Just leadership. A guy who understands that part of it and is real good in the room.”

Clutterbuck said that all of it, starting with the physical edge to his game, stems from his extreme competitiveness.

“I don’t like losing,” he said. “I can be very petty. Part of me wishes that I had a little less of that. I don’t think people understand the level of competitive drive that you need, not only to get here but to be here consistently. It takes a hatred of losing.”

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