Editor's Note: This is a follow up to the interview with Clark in January, available here.
Every career is built on highs and lows, with success often determined by one's unwillingness to linger on either. For an amateur athlete, there may be no greater high than that first professional contract and no greater low than that first brush with disciplinary action. In the span of one week, Matt Clark experienced both, signing an entry level deal with the Anaheim Ducks while still sidelined by a four game suspension.
"I had seen the puck squirt into the corner," Clark recalls of the Game 6 play against the Kingston Frontenacs that got him suspended. "I wanted to get there when Ethan [Werek] got there. He, obviously, was ahead of me, so I wanted to initiate contact with him to get a battle going to the corner. And unfortunately, he was off balance, and I gave him a shove and he went flying into the boards awkwardly and messed his knee up."
Werek tore his MCL on the play, and after reviewing the hit, the OHL handed Clark four games, a sentence that kept him out of the Brampton Battalion lineup for the first three games of the next playoff round. There was plenty of time to sit and think, but the 19 year-old defenseman didn't consider changing his game.
"I don't really think that you can worry too much about those kinds of plays," says Clark. " I feel real bad about what happened, but I pride myself on being a physical defensive-defenseman who wins battles in the corners. I had no intention of injuring him on the play; I just intended on initiating a battle and hopefully winning . . . that's how I played before, and that's how I keep on playing: never intending to injure anyone and just playing a strong, physical game and winning battles."
It's that strong, physical game that drew the Ducks to Clark in the first place, and his performance this year made putting pen to paper rather easy for both sides.
"They're happy with how I progressed this season," Clark says of the Anaheim front office. "They're obviously happy with the two awards, [Best Body Checker and Best Defensive-Defenseman], I received in the [OHL Eastern Conference] Coaches' poll, and they're really happy with my development. They've been monitoring me and telling me what I need to work on, and I've been trying to apply those [things] to my games. They were, needless to say, very happy with me and excited to get the next step going."
Playing in the NHL has been Clark's lifelong dream and hockey his only real passion for as long as he can remember. He didn't take the ice until his family moved back to Canada when he was six years old, but growing up in Colorado, he begged them to let him play. And he carries those memories with him to this day.
"I'd always loved Adam Foote growing up. He's a tough defenseman, and he's really well known and a genuinely respected player-- respected on and off the ice. I'd always watched him growing up, and when I got a little bit older in my Junior career, I tried to model my game after him."
Clark's size and defensive smarts are certainly on par with Foote, but it's his unbridled passion for the big hit that most recalls the Avalanche defender.
"I've had a bunch of big hits this year that I really love and have watched on video," Clark muses. "[In Mississauga], there was a defenseman with the puck, and he made a D to D pass. I saw the other D receive the pass, and I saw that one of their centermen was curling through the middle expecting pass and to be bursting up the middle with lots of speed. And I just anticipated the pass being there, and I met up with him right as soon as he received the pass and made a clean hit right to his chest. And it was probably one of the hardest hits I've made in my career."
"I've had about five or six hits this year where I can still remember every play and how they developed," Clark adds. "[There was a] play in Ottawa, I remember, when I saw a play developing and I stepped up and made the play at the right time. There was a time in Windsor when I almost caught Taylor Hall with his head down and that would've been-- uh --that would've been very nice. But I mean, yeah, just stuff like that, when you can really catch a key player with his head down. It's big."
Clark's physicality, his passion, arguably created a low point in his career. After all, with Clark suspended, the Brampton Battalion lost their first three games in the next round and were eliminated from the OHL playoffs. But that same passion soon earned him another high point: his pro debut. The Ducks arranged an amateur tryout with the Manitoba Moose, the AHL club where Anaheim assigned prospects Dan Sexton and Brian Salcido, and Clark played his first game with the team on Saturday, a 2-1 win over the Peoria Rivermen.
Every career is built on highs and lows, but Matt Clark-- smart, physical and passionate --is poised to see much more of the former than the latter.