Monday, 6 February 2017

Clark loves returning to junior hockey roots made with Blades

Wendel Clark waves to the crowd at the SaskTel Centre.
    Wendel Clark is always fond of his Saskatoon homecomings.
    Before he became a legendary power forward with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, Clark starred as a defenceman for the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades for two seasons from 1983 to 1985. During that time, he appeared in 136 regular season games collecting 55 goals and 100 assists. In the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, the Leafs selected Clark first overall, and he is still the only Blades player to ever be selected first overall in an NHL Entry Draft.
    While he will always be best remember for his time with the Leafs, Clark will never shy away from renewing his links with the Blades. The Kelvington, Sask., product was in “the Bridge City” on Saturday to be honoured as part of the Blades “Homegrown Hockey Heroes” promotion, which was held as part of their 4-2 victory over the Red Deer Rebels.
    Starting from a pre-game dinner and hot stove and right through to the end of that night’s game, Clark did his best to accommodate the numerous fan requests that came his way.
    “It is great being back all the time,” said Clark, who stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 197 pounds. “Whenever you get back in the old arena with the old uniform playing and seeing the alma mater as we say playing the game, it is fun.
    “Your avid fans watch all the eras, and they know all the players and remember what they like from each of the players in each of the different eras. That is a great thing when you come back to the junior hockey rinks.”
    During his days with the Blades, Clark never got to play in the SaskTel Centre, which hosted its first Blades game on Feb. 9, 1988. He suited up for the Blades when they played out of the now demolished Saskatoon Arena, which was located in the city’s downtown core.
Wendel Clark, right, signs an autograph for a young fan.
    Playing with the Blades out of that facility, which was full of character, helped Clark connect with the city. Clark said the connections he made remain his best memories with the Blades.
    “It is your first time really away from home and the friends you met as teammates and your billets you become lifelong friends (with) and just all the people around town,” said Clark. “When you get a great city like Saskatoon to be able to play junior hockey in, it is some of your best memories is playing junior hockey.”
    On the ice, Clark remembers being in countless battles with the Blades long time arch rivals the Regina Pats, and witnessed what was a new rivalry take shape at the time with the Prince Albert Raiders, who left junior A for the major junior ranks in 1982 and won the Memorial Cup in 1985.
    “You play them 12 or 14 times,” said Clark, who is widely regarded as the best player to ever suit up for the Blades. “There had to be a love hate just because of how much you played each other.”
Clark also suited up for Canada at the world junior championships during the 1984-85 campaign, where he helped Canada win gold in Helsinki, Finland. During that tournament, he netted four goals and two assists in seven games.
    During those world juniors, Clark gained a new respect for one of his junior hockey rivals in Raiders head coach Terry Simpson, who was also the head coach of Clark’s world junior team.
    “Terry (Simpson) was renowned,” said Clark. “He built all those teams in tier two and then he went on.
    “I had Terry (as a coach) after the world juniors as well with the Leafs as an assistant coach. He was just one of those guys that was always around the game. He loved the game and was student of the game by how much he changed and learned.
    “Anywhere he coached, he had great hockey teams.”
A bobblehead doll of Wendel Clark as a member of the Saskatoon Blades.
    Clark spent most of his career with the Leafs, but also suited up for short stints with the Quebec Nordiques, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks in his NHL days that went from 1985 to 2000. He appeared in 793 regular season games piling up 330 goals, 234 assists and 1,690 penalty minutes.
    The 50-year-old recently finished writing an autobiography called “Bleeding Blue: Giving My All for the Game.” The book provided another avenue to interact with the fans.
    “The book is great,” said Clark. “I did the tour in November just before Christmas with it.
    “It did well, and I had a lot fun with it. I told a lot of stories and reminisced. Now, it has calmed down from the book selling tour, but it was a fun thing to do.”
    While he will always be remembered for his playing days with the Leafs, Clark will always look forward to the next time he gets to run back to Saskatoon.

Kustra and Shmyr down with concussions

    On Monday, the Blades reported that defenceman Jake Kustra and left-winger Braylon Shmyr both suffered concussions from hard hits they received during Saturday’s win over the Rebels.
    Kustra was injured with 10:41 to play in the third, when he was hit into the boards by Rebels winger and former Blade teammate Cameron Hausinger. Following the hit, Kustra was taken off the ice by a stretcher.
    Besides suffering a concussion, Kustra sustained a laceration to his head. The Yorkton, Sask., product has appeared in 30 games this season netting a goal and three assists.
    Hausinger was given a checking to the head major and a game misconduct for that hit. The replay in the building showed Kustra had slipped trying to avoid the hit, which resulted in him being in a vulnerable position.
    Shmyr was injured after receiving a high hit from Rebels defenceman Colton Bobyk. Shmyr leads the Blades in scoring netting a career high 27 goals and equaling a career high with 22 assists in 53 games.
    With Kustra and Shmyr following concussion injury protocols, the Blades didn’t set any timelines for any possible returns. The WHL hasn’t announced if there will be any suspensions from Saturday’s game.
    Saskatoon also lost winger Lukus MacKenzie to injury in Saturday’s win. MacKenzie injured his shoulder in a second period fight with Rebels winger Evan Polei.
    The Blades return to action Friday, when they host the Moose Jaw Warriors at 7 p.m. at the SaskTel Centre.

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