As the final horn sounds, the Nottingham Panthers take a 2-1 victory over the Fife Flyers. That was Panthers captain David Clarke’s final regular season home game as a member of the organisation.
He’s had a long and decorated career, he’s played in leagues across the country and Europe, he even had a shot at the NHL. It’s not over just yet. Will we see him at the play offs? “Absolutely!” He says and I can hear the happiness in his voice. “We’ll be winning it.”
Those are some big words there, but hearing him say it? I can absolutely believe it. He’s a captain and for good reason. David Clarke is one of those men who, when he says something you know he believes it with his whole heart.
We spoke about his whole hockey career. From his beginnings in Peterborough to playing for Team GB and his Continental Cup success with the Panthers.
How did he first discover Ice Hockey? The sport has grown hugely in this country in the last ten years, with it’s visibility growing year on year, only highlighted more by the recent Winter Olympic coverage, I was interested to see what drew the young Clarke into it.
“My father had a property and each year three or four imports used to come over and stay there. Dad also used to play roller hockey, so I saw a bit of both. He wanted something else to follow. I was about 5, I think and he’d take us along to games and to practise. When I was about 7 I said to dad that I wanted to go and I never looked back.”
His memories of his first game against Durham in the under 14’s were perhaps not the most positive but they seem to have stuck with him nonethless. “They were the best.” He recalls. “We lost 32-2 and I remembered I was told to go up and down the dots. I didn’t know about positioning then. I got man of the match and was given a Boston Bruins pendant. They then became my NHL team.”
“I trained in Peterborough, working through the junior ranks. I learned so much about the game there. The facilities aren’t the best but you learn to play the game the right way and it means you learn to appreciate what you do get as you move through the ranks and end up playing somewhere like Nottingham.”
David has quite the record with Nottingham, playing with them for four years initially and working his way up to being Captain, before an opportunity in Italy presented itself, allowing him to progress further still. However, he kept coming back and I wondered what it was that made him come back again. “Being away was difficult and when I broke my leg and was out for three months, they allowed me to come home in a cast and rest and heal. With Morgan, my son, it was hard to be away so I came back. Corey [Neilson] became head coach that year and so I came back and I’ve been here ever since.”
At 15, he signed his first contract. He had to go to college and get up early to practice. He explains that it was a good introduction to the life but without the monetary reward. It was about making an impression and working hard to gain a spot. The following year at age 16, he was then paid £50 a week to play. “It was a 52 week contract. The only one I’ve had my whole career. I was over the moon, someone was giving me money to do something I loved doing. I have been fortunate to never have a job I have hated. The love of the game is what drives me to try and do better.”
He was given the chance to head out to the United States and found himself with Providence, the Boston Bruins farm team. At that time he was a young dad and had the chance to learn and progress, however the lack of security and the risk that he could end up without a team. “At the end of the day I had to feed my family. Who knows what could happen? It was the right decision for me.”
Team GB happened quite early in his career. He recalls going to camp the first time with Sheffield Steelers captain Jonathan Philips. “At the time it was hard to crack the national team, there were a lot of dual nationals on the team. We walked into the hotel and found ourselves among the likes of Tony Hand, David Longstaff and Rob Wilson. We were petrified.” He laughs. “It was a great learning experience and I made the world championships, we narrowly missed out on gold but it was great to get a medal. I’ve been a part of it ever since.”
He explains about how when it comes to winning the playoffs, he is very quick to reset as he joins the GB squad. “I try and stay humble, within GB you are with people who you’ve beaten along the way and where as you feel on top of the world, they may be disappointed that they lost in the finals or whatever, so you have to suppress it quite a lot.” A busy schedule hardly leaves any time for celebration or even reflection on achievements. Often that comes in the off season. “In the NHL, they win the Stanley Cup and get to celebrate for four straight weeks, we don’t get that kind of chance until we have finished GB and most people have gone home.”
“The year we won everything was a great achievement in Nottingham. Especially the league title, it had been a long time coming. I think it’ll be better to ask me in a years time, when those memories come back.”
“This will be my last summer of being a sportsman, plenty of family time and holidays. I have a few opportunities it’s just a case of finishing the season and reflecting and then going from there. I’ve always had the hockey school and I’m passionate about that so I’ll continue. I’ve always enjoyed property and done that since I was young, now I’ll have some time to do that. I’m just going to enjoy the final few weeks and I’ll enjoy watching my son who is playing in Canada and being a dad in the stands for once.”
Photo Credit: Nottingham Panthers/Panthers Images