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Cal Clutterbuck's return to Minnesota a mixed bag

Cal Clutterbuck of the Islanders skates to the

Cal Clutterbuck of the Islanders skates to the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center. (Oct. 11, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Nervous? Eager? Nostalgic?

Cal Clutterbuck said he doesn't know how he'll feel Sunday night when the Islanders play in Minnesota. He spent the first five seasons of his career with the Wild before being traded to the Islanders in late June.

"I don't really know what it's going to be like," Clutterbuck said. "And I think it's a good thing that I really haven't had that much time to think about it because of it being sandwiched between the holidays, practices and it being back-to-back games."

Clutterbuck was beloved by many in Minnesota for his physicality, consistent defense -- and rich mustache.

"I think fans genuinely liked the style of play I brought to the table and I'm a pretty physical guy," he said. "I don't think anybody expected me to do a whole lot after they drafted me. I was off the radar there and had a good year to start and felt pretty comfortable."

As a rookie in 2008-09, Clutterbuck broke the NHL record for hits in a single season with 356. He led the NHL in the unofficial category from 2008-11.

The 26-year-old wing came over in a draft-day trade, signed a four-year, $11-million extension and then suffered a deep skate gash on the Islanders' first night of the preseason.

He returned to the ice in October and recently has played well, doing exactly what endeared him to the Wild fans: executing big clean hits and playing with energy.

In that sense, not much has changed for Clutterbuck. But now he's doing it for the Islanders.

"As far back as I could remember, it's just been a part of my game for a long time," Clutterbuck said. "If there was one thing I knew I could rely on, it was my physical play and my ability defensively."

Clutterbuck's path to the Islanders had a lot to do with his expiring contract at the time. Still, he said he is indebted to the franchise that gave him his first chance in the league. It's the same one he'll be opposing for the first time Sunday night.

"It will hit me probably when I walk in or in warm-ups," Clutterbuck said. "Being on the other bench and other dressing room will be odd. Seeing a bunch of faces that I was used to seeing at every home game for the first time in a while, it will hit me then.

"I really don't know how I'm going to feel, to be honest with you. It'll be a mix."

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