May 05, 2006

Bobby Clarke

No hockey player worked harder than Bobby Clarke, the tenacious leader of the Philadelphia Flyers for 15 enjoyable years. As a result, no one personified the Philadelphia Flyers better.

A wonderful talent blessed with great vision and playmaking skills, Clarke is better remembered for his physical talents - a relentless work ethic, a powerful leadership presence, and an unquenchable thirst to win complete with a willingness to do anything it took to capture victory.

As a result Clarke is immortally beloved in Philadelphia and remembered as one of the all time greats in hockey history. However hockey fans elsewhere love to perpetuate his status as one of hockey's most hated villains.

Growing up in the small Manitoba mining town of Flin Flon, all Clarke wanted to do was play hockey. However playing professional hockey must have seemed like a remote dream to Clarke when at age 15 he learned he had diabetes. However his love of the sport wouldn't let this deter him, and he went on to dominate the Canadian junior leagues.

Despite the setback, Clarke compiled back-to-back scoring titles in two full seasons in Flin Flon, accumulating 168 and 137 points, respectively during the 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons. Clarke is such a legend in western Canadian junior hockey that the Western Hockey League named the trophy awarded to its top scorer in Clarke's honor.

Despite his obviously bright hockey future, teams shied away from Clarke in the annual Entry Draft because of his ailment. Despite doctor assurances from the famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota that diabetes would not interfere with his career as a professional athlete, every team passed on Clarke. Even the Flyers, who drafted Bob Currier 6th overall, passed initially. But Philadelphia eagerly snatched him with the 17th overall pick, and his diabetes quickly became a non-issue.

Clarke immediately stepped in and succeeded. By the time he turned 23 years old, he was named captain of the Flyers - the youngest player in league history at that time to be so honored. The same year he won his first of three Hart Trophies as league MVP. And his 104 points made him the first player on a non-Original Six team to reach the 100 point mark.

Clarke was absolutely essential to the Flyers two Cups in the 1970s, the first time an expansion team won the prized trophy. Dave Schultz called him the "heart and soul of our club." Coach Fred Shero said there would be no championships in Philadelphia without Bobby Clarke. Clarke played with so much determination and all of his heart and soul, and he demanded it from every single one of his teammates.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say he Clarke was the Pete Rose of hockey, a Charlie Hustle on skates. It could be game in the middle of January and up or down by 6 goals, but Clarke played every shift as if it was overtime in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.

His super-human will should not overshadow his high skill level. Clarke was an incredible defensive player. He was almost always the guy to take the big faceoff, kill a key penalty or defend a lead in the last minute of play. As the statistics suggest, Clarke was a great playmaker as well. Twice he led the NHL in assists, and had 852 in total in his career, compared to 358 goals.

Clarke was also a key member for Canada in international hockey events and he seemed to have great dislike for the great Soviet teams. He was a key player in the 1972 Summit Series. In fact he and Phil Esposito are the two players who get the most credit in that series, other than Paul Henderson of course. Clarke was also a key member of the 1976 Canada Cup championship team.

Clarke however has always been associated with some violent acts against the Soviets. In 1972 he broke the ankle with a deliberate slash to the boot of Valeri Kharlamov, the Soviets chief scoring threat. Clarke also introduced the Soviets to "Broad Street Bullies" hockey in a 1975 exhibition game between the Stanley Cup champs and the Soviets. In that game the Soviets left the ice because of the rough play. As a result Clarke is particularly disliked overseas, and his actions became inaccurate stereotypes of Canadian hockey.

Clarke played until the conclusion of the 1983-84 season. He retired with career totals of 1144 games, 358 goals, 1210 points and 1453 PIMs. In addition to his three Hart Trophies, Clarke also won the Masterton, Pearson, Patrick and Selke Trophies, making him one of the most decorated hockey players in history.

Following his playing days Clarke stayed very active in hockey, serving as general manager in Philly, but also with Florida and Minnesota. His winning record as a manager is impressive, although the Stanley Cup continues to elude him as an executive.

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