If his one-time talented 13-year-old Rocky Mountain RoughRiders player achieves his NHL dreams, former coach Chris Lawson expects to be emotional.
“I will be in the building,” Lawson said. “I don’t care what it takes.
“Nate's development is a testament to being a little more patient with your path.”
Boulder native Nate Clurman, 23, is figuring out life as a professional hockey player. What to do with his ample free time, since he isn't attending classes at Notre Dame and doesn’t play video games. He’s from a skiing family and likes to stay active and outdoors.
“I’m not very great at sitting around,” Clurman said.
He got his wish, in several respects, the past few weeks. Assigned No. 84, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenseman took part in rookie and training camps for the Colorado Avalanche.
“It's pretty simple in my head, what’s been going on, but it’s also cool that you’re skating with guys like (Nathan) MacKinnon, (Gabriel) Landeskog, (Mikko) Rantanen, every day, going against them and seeing if you can play with them,” Clurman said.
“The whole experience is pretty intense, but that’s what you sign up for and that’s why you play the game. You want to win and you want to be part of a team like that. I enjoyed all of it.”
Clurman represented the Avalanche at the 2011 Quebec International PeeWee Hockey Tournament. He was too young to really enjoy the two Colorado Stanley Cups, but went to games during the heyday of Milan Hejduk, Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic. Sakic's Fathead was stuck to his bedroom wall.
Lawson coached him both bantam years in the early days of the RoughRiders program and was his advisor. Lawson said some NHL teams became interested, but didn't agree with Clurman's decision to return to Culver Military Academy in Indiana for his senior year.
Graduating was important to him. Clurman and his family went out to breakfast the morning of the 2016 draft’s second round and he didn’t stress about it.
The Avalanche were undeterred and selected Clurman in the sixth round, 161st overall, their second Colorado-born draft pick after J.D. Corbin in 2004. The text from his agent said something like “Colorado, congrats!” And that was it for breakfast.
Lawson, who had just gotten engaged about an hour beforehand elsewhere in the mountains of Colorado, found cell service and congratulated him.
The Avalanche checked in with Clurman during three seasons at Notre Dame, where he compiled 19 points (4 goals, 15 assists) with a +10 plus-minus rating in 103 games. He was a captain his junior year and weighed who the Irish needed him to be with what would help him reach the next level.
“In college I struggled a little bit to find what my true game was, how it was going to translate to pro,” Clurman said. “You want to contribute more offensively, but really I’m more of a defensive guy.”
After Notre Dame was removed from the 2021 NCAA Tournament due to a positive COVID-19 test, it was time for another decision.
“I’ve dreamed of playing for the Avs. You never know if you’re going to go back and have a bad senior year and the offer’s not going to be good the next year,” Clurman said.
“I wanted the challenge and I wanted to be uncomfortable. Explore the options, and it was the best option I could have gotten.”
His teammates were some of his biggest motivators.
“They were the ones, really, who were like, ‘You’ve got to do this. We’d love for you to come back, but we know you’re ready to go. You’ve shown that,’” Clurman recalled.
Clurman signed April 5 and reported to the AHL's Colorado Eagles. He was plus-3 with 10 penalty minutes through nine games before breaking a bone in his foot blocking a shot. It ended his season, but the rehab was relatively minor.
Clurman’s sister — supportive of his hockey career, but not knowing all the inner workings — asked if his career was over.
"’Are you going back to school?’” he remembered her asking.
“’No, it’s like three weeks. Chill out.’”
All involved hope the career is still building. Clurman embraced his new job this summer in the weight room. Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said Clurman “blew away all of our fitness testing."
“He needs some time though,” Bednar said. "He's going to go down and hopefully play really well for the Eagles. He’s a committed guy. You give those guys the benefit of the doubt.
“The next step is being able to grab that puck and advance it to our forwards on time. That would be the one area of improvement we need to see from him.
“That’s the first time, I believe for me, that we’ve seen him in a camp. The coaching staff got a better feel for what he can provide.”
Clurman appeared in all three Arizona Rookie Faceoff games and took two penalties. He was reassigned to the Eagles on Monday without appearing in a preseason game.
Clurman has a sought-after, right-handed shot for a defenseman. Lawson said he won’t be “breaking ankles like Cale Makar,” but rather shutting down opponents like Ryan Graves, who was traded this summer to New Jersey.
“They have plenty of the skill guys,” Lawson said. “Eventually if he's going to work his way into the team, he’s going to have to be that presence that enables those guys to do what they do. Trustworthy, physical, using his size and his speed.”
Lawson, and several of Clurman’s other youth coaches, are now friends. He knows their families. He drops by practices. He’s discussed his many career moves with them.
Boulder to Culver to South Bend to Loveland.
“It's a good environment to grow up in,” Clurman said of the Avalanche system. “I’m just excited, wherever that is, to be ready to go every day. Not let it drift by.”
Photo credit: Graisen Eatchel, courtesy of Colorado Avalanche