Rich Clune’s story is also one of addiction and mental health awareness. The unrestricted forward has been sober for five years now and wears it like a badge of honor. And he’s gone to great lengths to keep it that way.
In the 2012-13 season with Nashville he got elbowed in the face and hurt his jaw. Instead of taking painkillers he took ibuprofen because was important for him to not trigger any addictive thoughts in his head.
“I had this nasty cut that wouldn’t heal and essentially my skin was just like pulling away from my jawbone,” he said.
Clune believes that life is about decisions. You either decide to make your existence better, or you don’t.
“Everyone has their own cross to bear and I think it’s OK to ask for help but ultimately you’re in charge of your own reality,” he said.
Clune has a lot of thoughts and many interests. He’s a hockey fighter along the lines of the current-day skilled enforcer. But he’s a deep thinker.
Ask about hockey culture and he brings up sociology studies.
Clune is currently living in Los Angeles. He’s working out, reading, writing and taking acting classes. He’s also trying to find that next contract. In spite of his role as a fighter, he can play.
As he likes to point out – he was once an NHL third-round draft pick.
We talked with Clune about his life in hockey and what he thinks about hockey, sobriety and how the two can be difficult to intertwine.
Q: You recently wrote a piece about your battles with addiction. Why? What’s your message to players who want to get sober?
Clune: I wanted it to be that … the biggest message was that I wasn’t passing blame on … I just think that people need to be responsible for their actions, whether they’re … I think the biggest takeaway is that people need to make the choice to change their life. They can’t sit around and blame their job or anything other than the fact they make decisions and they have to live with them, whether it’s they’re an alcoholic or anything. Everyone has their own cross to bear and I think it’s OK to ask for help, but ultimately you’re in charge of your own reality and I just didn’t want people to think that I’m blaming hockey for any of my (freaking) challenges. I could have done anything. Whether I would have … people would ask, ‘Well because you’re a hockey player you moved away from home and this is why you suffered from all this (crap)?’ I’m like, ‘No, it would have happened anywhere I went.’
My mind would have justified anything. If I went to a school to be a dentist, a lawyer or a doctor … it probably would have happened either way. I would have cracked under the pressure and self-medicated and all the reasons I did what I did would have come out anyway. It would have had nothing to do with ‘I’m a hockey player and I moved away from home and I started fighting when I turned pro.’ That stuff is all irrelevant. In my situation that would have probably been no different.
Anything I would have chose to do, the whole point of it is that I had to get out of my own way and that’s the biggest message of that story is that if you have challenges, you’re in your own way. You have to get out of your own way. It’s OK to ask for help, but it’s not OK to sit around and feel sorry for yourself and just living your disease and your addiction and make excuses and blame other people and that’s what my message is to people for the most part.
You mentioned the difficult nature of the Canadian Major Junior. What’s wrong with it? Do there need to be changes?
Well, I mean there are players that do go to these teams that don’t drink.
I’ve played with a lot of guys who stayed on the straight and narrow …
I think it’s just the nature of the way it’s set up. You move away from home at a tender age for the most part. You’re 15, 16, 17 and then you’re famous in the town you play in and it’s just … you play with guys who are 18,19, 20 – they can legally drink in Canada.
But at the same time too, it’s just ... it’s just a (freaking) … it’s tough to adapt at that age. But some people, there’s a few guys every year on teams that just seem like they don’t deal with it well and I was one of them. But like, I say this to people all the time, as a society, every group of people has these issues. You can just, it’s just the way the world is. You get a bunch of men who are a different breed and it’s just … I don’t need to point that out. It’s sociology, it’s the study of sociology. There’s a lot of factors that go into it. I’m not an expert on it. I can’t tell you, I just think that kids are really young and it’s just … that’s just tough to adapt at a young age.
You’re in acting classes and involved in other outside interests. Is the NHL or hockey an open place for players with desires outside of sports? Or does that get shunned?
It’s very hard to be good at something if you don’t put the hours in and not only the physical hours but the visualization and just constantly…
It’s hard enough to become a professional in one area of your life. There are a few guys that never (freaking) work out and they don’t have to train at it and they’re NHL players because they have that ‘god given’ talent. But for the most part people don’t get to become a professional at something for no reason.
I have interests outside of hockey that a lot of hockey players find kind of obscure and it’s maybe not common, but at the same time too, the only person that I would ever have to blame for not cultivating my interests for a little bit is myself because I could have done a lot of those things.
It was a full-time (freaking) job for me to be a (freaking) alcoholic and drug addict. It took up all my goddam time. People used to say, ‘Hey your partying and your drinking is getting in the way of hockey.’ And me being a smartass would say, ‘No it’s not, my hockey is getting in the way of my (freaking) partying.’ I’m not going to sit here and be like, ‘Yeah, the guys are going to make fun of an individual for wanting to explore other interests.’ But at the same time too, it’s very hard to become a very highly successful professional in anything if you don’t put the hours into it.
If you don’t take your work home with you, you have to. It has to become your life. Hockey became my life at a young age and I don’t feel bad about that, but at the same time, whatever, the guys all want to be on the same page so some guys might think that because a guy had an acting class on a Tuesday night he’s not thinking about the big game on Wednesday.
Whereas, I just think that’s dumb but it’s just … it’s competitive. Guys want to win and they want to make sure their teammates are bought in and I get that. And I have that too. I have that mentality too, I want my teammates focused and thinking about the task at hand, but at the same time I think it’s healthy to have other interests outside of the game. It’s definitely healthy and guys, the thing is most guys like to play golf and fish and do things like that…
Athletic, ‘guy’ type things?
Yeah, guys are athletic, they always like to be around sports, it’s just when you meet a guy and, ‘Hey, maybe his interests don’t really match up with the norm.’ I just think that, at the same time too I have to be … when you really look into it, when you really get into it guys will always say, ‘I’ve been interested in that too, I just never had the confidence to try it. People always call me to do things during the week. I do my training in the morning for a few hours and I’ll relax in the afternoon whether I’ll nap or relax and then for the most part at night I’ll do other things, I’ll go to acting class I sit down and I write with my brothers, I read – I read scripts. I’m in scene study classes, involved in shooting a short film at the moment. I just never had time to pursue all this because once hockey was done I was so engulfed in my addiction. When I kicked everything, I was in recovery so much. I was going to meetings every night.
I went through a whole summer of treatment and it just took me a while to wrap my head around that. And now five years later I have a good grasp on what I need to do to remain healthy and sober and I also now have a lot more energy and my mind is clear and I now have a lot more time. I don’t waste time, that’s one thing if you ever hang around me, I do not waste a minute. And for me if I do give myself that 45 minutes to an hour to relax in the afternoon, that’s for a reason because once that 45 minutes to an hour is up now I’m back to doing whatever I’m doing.
That’s my one pet peeve is, I want people to live their own lives, but I’m a big believer in not wasting time and you can get a lot done in a day if you really want to.
None of your teammates ever gave you a problem for being sober?
That’s the honest truth. I’m not covering for anybody. I think the reason is because people I saw I was taking it serious, because there was a time in my life where I made promises to guys and I made promises to teammates and I told everybody, ‘I’m going to change’ and ‘I’m going to get sober’ and ‘You’ll see’ and there were so many times it was like the boy who cried wolf. Guys were like, ‘All right, I’ve heard you say this a million times. You’re a joke.’ And they had no choice but to not take me seriously because I didn’t take myself serious.’
The eyes don’t lie on a human. People could see in my eyes I wanted to make a change. I was doing the work. People had no choice but to respect it. I’ve had the odd guy who didn’t know … they couldn’t figure it out and were like, ‘Why aren’t you drinking?’ that could happen but did anyone ever say, ‘You’re a loser?’ It was like people were ‘OK, good for you. ‘ Mike Fisher was like a huge role model to me. Playing with him in Nashville was great.
He’s a very devout Christian and he lives his life the way he wants to live it. He was … some people may question the way he lived his life and the way he made decisions but he walks the walk and he doesn’t apologize for it. And I respect him so much and he was very accepting of me when I came in and I live my life the way I want to live it and I’m not going to apologize. I just respect people who stand for something.
I like people who, it doesn’t matter what a person does. In any walk of life in any type of profession, man, woman, whatever it doesn’t matter I gravitate people who stand for something and not march to the beat of their own drum, but sincere people who are the same person all the time. And there’s a lot of hockey players like that and I’ve met a lot of good guys I’ve looked up to over the years.
How difficult is it to have an open relationship with a coach to let them know what’s going on in your head? You opened up about this in regards to your time with Barry Trotz in Nashville.
It was no secret when Nashville claimed me on waivers from LA (in 2013). (Former Kings assistant GM) Ron Hextall had kind of given David Poile my background and vouched for me and basically said, ‘This kid has his life in order, you don’t have to worry about that.’ So (former Nashville coach Barry Trotz) kind of had the heads up when I joined the team and Trotzy and I met before I started playing and he asked me a little bit about myself. He told me a little bit about himself and just kind of laid everything on the table. He said, ‘I coached Jordin Tootoo for a bit and I saw what he went through and I was really proud of him when he got sober and I was a very big supporter in that.’ So Trotzy sort of knew the deal. I didn’t have a shattered jaw. I had a bit of a fracture in a bone in my mouth.
I had this nasty cut that wouldn’t heal and essentially my skin was just like pulling away from my jawbone. They had to keep it protected with the visor and it just hurt man. It just hurt constantly for over a month. I took ibuprofen and that would not do much actually. The biggest thing was in my sleep I would wake up and it (freaking) hurt, or I would go to eat and there’d be food caught in there. A bunch of it got infected at one point and it was just nasty.
I wasn’t really into painkillers in my addiction. I dabbled in it, but immediately, this sort of part of my brain that probably has that trait associated with it. It was like, ‘Yeah, why don’t you just get zonked out on painkillers constantly to numb the pain, that would probably help.’ And it probably would have but I just knew I had come so far and I knew that if I put a substance like that in my body constantly, I don’t know what that would do. How will I react when the cut heals and the pain is done? Am I going to continue to take them? It could have led me back into drinking or doing other drugs and I just had come so far and learned a lot about myself. I knew that the pain wasn’t to the point where I wasn’t going to live.
It wasn’t going to kill me. So I had to figure a way of how to tough it out and the whole thing with the jaw visor. I was like, ‘Yeah I can’t fight’ and I was really stressed. I had only been on the team 3-4 weeks. And I was just playing everything out in my head. I was like, ‘(ugh), these guys are probably going to send me back down to the minors just because I had that kind of reputation coming in that I was brought in to provide energy and toughness. I know I can play without fighting. It’s just a matter of fact the team recognizing that. Trotzy saw that in me. I kept begging the trainers to take the visor off.
I was freaking out and telling them, ‘They’re going to send me down.’ Trotzy didn’t baby me, he just said man-to-man ‘I like the way you skate, use your speed get in on the forecheck. Play hockey. Play hockey … don’t you want to just play hockey?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, obviously.’ I mean I love getting into fights when it happens organically and like, something where there’s emotions involved. I’ve never been a fan of just going out there and teeing off at the other team’s fighter.
That’s good if it happens organically but just to go out and do it and then you go back to the bench and sit there for the rest of the game? No I mean, I’ve never liked that. It sucks, it’s stupid. Trotzy was cool about it. He was like ‘I’m going to give you a chance to play’ and that’s when I started to put a few points on the board. My minutes started to go up and it was really good for me. It was good for me to see and regain that confidence in myself.
Is it easy or hard to confide in a coach?
Yeah, at the same time too, Trotzy could have just healthy scratched me until I got healthy. If he didn’t think I wasn’t capable of it, he wouldn’t have done it. This isn’t a charity case. I think if I couldn’t keep up and I was literally only there to fight I wouldn’t have played. I think the whole point was he noticed I was good enough and all I needed was that little boost of confidence to spur me on my way. I have trust issues with a lot of people, man, I have major trust issues. And when he kind of did that, it allowed me to trust him. It allowed me to play. I have a lot of trust issues inside of hockey and outside of hockey. Not every coach is going to be like that and I’ve had coaches that aren’t like that. But at the end of the day, does that make them a bad guy? Not necessarily. Everyone has their own style. It is what it is.
Seems like at the age of 27 you’ve got the hockey culture figured out? But it took a while.
It’s like anything in life. The more time you’re around it the more you learn and when you’re young you think you know everything and as you get older you realize you don’t know that much, so um, yeah I’ve enjoyed my hockey career. I train hard and I want to keep playing and I love to play. I love the sport of hockey. It’s been my life up until now and I don’t apologize for that. I don’t apologize when people say, ‘What do you do?’ and I say, ‘I’m a hockey player’ but at the same time too I’m a lot of other things, and I take pride in that as well.
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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter!
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