It has been a dizzying hockey season so far for Emerson Clark, and four weeks lie ahead.
"It's a good move and I'm happy to be here," says Emerson Clark of joining the Utica Comets on March 8.
It has become all too familiar for Clark. Moving from team to team, and swapping leagues as well, multiple times each of his first four professional seasons. Making his way to Utica more than one week ago, after skating in 10 games for the Chicago Wolves, and before that, 38 appearances with the ECHL Tulsa Oilers since October, Clark has begun settling in.
"I was in Chicago, had a chat with our general manager; he tells me the deal has been finalized," Clark said of his exiting the Windy City. "My fiancé and our dogs got in the car and we drove 12-hours straight to Utica."
Moving constantly has become not a big deal for the left winger. Although "home" is in the Greater Toronto Area (Whitby, Ontario – 45 minutes northeast of the "Queen City"), where Clark was able to pursue his hockey dreams, he's fine with his surroundings. Before leaving the Midwest, Clark was given a crash course on what to expect in Utica by someone who knows the Comets quite well.
"I became close with Alex Friesen and he was pretty excited for me when I told him that I was going to Utica," explains Clark of his Wolves' teammate and former Comet of three seasons.
As they say (and often), hockey is a small world. Cole Cassels, now in his second campaign with the Comets, was a teammate with Clark during their time in Juniors. During the 2011-12 season both Clark and Cassels played for Oshawa Generals. That season, Clark's third with the team, and Cassels' first, would be the last that they would share a locker room until meeting in The AUD.
There is adapting to new systems put in place by coaches and adapting to new surroundings away from the rink. Clark has become comfortable in doing both – and often.
The Comets are Clark's fifth pro organization in four seasons. Just this season alone, Clark has registered a combined 50 games with three different teams heading into this weekend (Tulsa, Chicago, Utica). Utica is the furthest east of all.
This past October, with Tulsa, Clark gained Sher-Wood Hockey ECHL Player of the Week honors. Scoring seven points in three games wrapped up the selection.
Two weeks later, on November 13, the Wolves came calling for Clark's services. This would be his second go-around with the Wolves, as Clark saw action in 29 games for the organization last season. One reason for Clark's popularity with management and fans remains his ability and willingness to drop his gloves.
This is known particularly well in the ECHL. Stints with the Greenville Road Warriors (later Swamp Rabbits), Toledo Walleye and his other pro employers, saw Clark register a jaw-dropping 798 penalty minutes. Just this season alone, Clark's 38 games skating for Tulsa saw him collect 158 minutes in the penalty box.
Clark's habit of mixing it up with opposing players dates back to his four years of Juniors. Each season, penalized in excess of 100 minutes with Oshawa and Windsor created a pattern for when Clark would turn pro.
A no-nonsense approach to Clark's game should have him blend in well with Comets' fans. And Clark likes what he sees all ready, while playing in his first Utica home game against the Binghamton Senators. In the game's third period, Clark had his "Welcome to Utica" moment, by collecting his first penalty (slashing) with the Comets.
"I hear all the time how great the city (Utica) is. It's going to be great to be part of a new experience," said Clark following the game at The AUD. "I want to try the restaurants, too."
When searching for a label to his initial exposure to Comets crowds on home ice, Clark simple chalks up his observations as "unbelievable." Without hesitation, Clark tells of never playing before a home crowd as to what he experienced at The AUD.
With fighting only a fraction of his all-around approach to hockey, Clark's athleticism has caught the attention of others away from the rink. In 2013, Clark was drafted by the Toronto Rock of the nine-team National Lacrosse League. Lacrosse, like hockey, appeals to Clark's eagerness as an athlete to perform at a high level.
It wouldn't be right to pigeonhole Clark as a one-dimensional player. He can skate with the best of players. Clark's mother, Lisa teaches hockey players (Luke Gazdic, who has spent time with the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils, is one student) the art and benefits of power skating. As a former figure-skater, Lisa has passed on her expertise to her son Emerson.
Four weeks left in the regular season for both Comets' fans and teammates should be ample time to get to know Emerson Clark.
Written by Don Laible