Chris Clark ... Getting it Done
April 23rd, 2004
What's better than cheering for an underdog in the playoffs?
How about cheering for an underdog in the playoffs and seeing that underdog finally put the critics, naysayers and endless number of doubters to rest.
After the 'Not-Seen-Since-Milli-Vanilli-Was-On-The-Charts' type of excitement over professional hockey the past two weeks in Calgary, one would assume the underdogs alluded to are in fact the hometown heroes we call the Flames.
If that were the presumption it would be correct, sort of. The particular underdog in question is a player who, if the fans and media could decide would have been gone faster than a pension cheque gets transferred into John Ziegler's personal bank account. A player who receives less ink at press time than the guy who started choking on his ham sub during intermission in game seven. A player who despite putting together a very strong effort through what has turned out to be the first seven games of the Flames 2004 playoff run, still gets all of the goat and none of the gloat.
The player is Calgary right-winger Chris Clark.
The past two weeks have been all about changing perceptions, dispelling superstitions and putting past disappointments to bed. Chris Clark has done all of that and more as he has been one of the sparkplugs that helped drive the Flames to their series win. Clark has shown a concentrated drive, begun to use his speed to his advantage and orchestrated some of the best offensive-pressure and effective fore-checking in the series. The stats don't lie: 7 games played, 2 goals, 2 assists, 1 power-play marker, +2 rating, 8 shots on goal, a 50% proficiency in the face-off circle, and nearly one full period of penalty-killing time at just over 19 minutes. Not bad for someone who many think doesn't even deserve to be in the NHL let alone a member of the Flames.
Clark was drafted at age 18 by the Flames as a 3rd round, 74th overall pick in 1994. From there he went on to an impressive collegiate career with teammate Craig Conroy's alumnus, the Clarkson University Golden Knights. Clark racked up 63 goals and 65 assists in 128 career games including 18 goals and 39 points to lead the team in scoring during the 1997/98 season. The Manchester, Connecticut native served as captain of the Knights that season leading them to an impressive 23-9 and 3 record good for 2nd overall in the regular season and all the way to the ECAC championship game where they lost 5-4 in double overtime to Princeton.
However, there is room for improvement for the former college star, a fact that save for only a few, can be made about the entire Flames roster. He could definitely put his 6'0, 200 lbs frame to better use by physically punishing his opponents more effectively and more often and he still takes the odd undisciplined and untimely penalty. There is no doubting the obvious though as coach Sutter has begun to rely on Clark for valuable minutes at crucial times of the game and more importantly momentum-swinging inspired shifts that are the true test of any playoff performer. This is what Clark has done and if the Flames are to continue to succeed this post season that is what he must continue to do.
No one will ever confuse Clark with one of the NHL's elite power forwards, best play-makers or for that matter, not even one of the league's top penalty-killers. The truest measure of his contribution cannot be made on the stats sheet or in the final game summary, it's made with a hard-earned turnover and a chance to score or a great fore-check that hems the opposition into their own zone. He does not excel in any one measurable statistical facet of the game, but is without doubt an extremely versatile commodity and brings to the table good all-around skills and hockey sense. Chris Clark's real contribution can be measured with heart, and that is what being an underdog is all about