In an age where toughness is slowly giving way to finesse, Garrett Clarke is a throwback to hockey’s old days.
Still only 16, the Halifax Mooseheads defenceman sets himself apart with a mean streak as long as Robie Street and an untamed fearlessness to match it.
“It’s nice early in the game to let the forwards know you’re coming for them,” Clarke said. “It scares them off a little throughout the game. If they’re coming down your side, they might think twice before coming down against you.”
It’s that mean streak — combined with his bullet shot, mobility and two-way talent — that led to him to be drafted sixth overall by the Lewiston Maineiacs two summers ago.
But after requesting and receiving a trade to Halifax in the off-season, Clarke is starting to realize the virtues of discipline and hard work. He didn’t endear himself to the coaching staff in either area when he arrived at camp, but his recent progress has turned him into one of the team’s best players.
“Maybe he got away with some things last year — we don’t really know — but he’s starting to work hard here,” said Mooseheads assistant coach Jeff MacLeod. “He’s testing us, we’re testing him, and I think we’re going to meet halfway, which is a good thing. He’s growing in a positive way.”
Through 12 games, Clarke is third in the league in penalty minutes with 43 and first among Mooseheads defencemen in hits with 21, and in scoring with two goals and six assists.
Clarke admittedly had a sluggish start, but said he is now “going out and giving it my all, whether we win or lose.”
MacLeod said Clarke “didn’t back down, took charge and led the team” on last weekend’s road trip to Quebec.
“If he works hard and stays focused, the future looks really, really bright for him,” said MacLeod.
Clarke and fellow rookies Konrad Abeltshauser and Steve Gillard are already logging top-four ice time when healthy. All three have potential to be No. 1 blueliners down the road, giving the last-place Mooseheads something to look forward to.
“The next couple of years are going to be great for us,” Clarke said. “We’ll just be flying back there.”