Clarke makes Colts’ franchise history in romp of IceDogs
Captain passes Nasato to become all-time scoring leader among defencemen
When Brandt Clarke first stepped on ice at the Barrie Molson Centre in 2019, the then 16 year old looked up into the rafters and took notice of the banners hanging above.
Along with banners celebrating Barrie Colts division titles and an OHL championship, the fourth overall pick in that year’s draft noticed the ones with the all-time franchise leaders, including one for top scoring defencemen.
Clarke looked at Luch Nasato’s name at the top with 134 points and the young defenceman couldn’t help but see his name up there one day.
“I have high expectations of myself and I hope one day I can be on top of that leader board,” the Colts captain said he recalled thinking at the time.
Clarke won’t have to hope anymore after recording a goal and assist in a 9-4 romp over the Niagara IceDogs Sunday afternoon to give him 136 career points and the title as the Colts all-time scoring leader among defencemen.
“I’ve made so many memories along the way and to be able to captain this team and make so many friends, I’m so happy to be with Barrie and to be able to accomplish that,” said the eighth overall pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
“I was kind of joking at the start (of my career) more than a reality, that it’d be cool to kind of check that off. I’m honoured to hold that title and want to win a division now.”
The special milestone comes just after head coach Marty Williamson became the franchise’s all-time winningest coach on Saturday night after a 6-3 win over Oshawa.
Clarke didn’t wait long to make franchise history at the Meridian Centre on Sunday, scoring his 12th goal in just 22 games this season with 12 seconds remaining in the first period.
He picked up a loose puck at the blueline and knuckled a shot that went under the blocker of Niagara goalie Josh Rosenzweig.
What’s impressive is Clarke smashed the record in less than three seasons. He did it despite loosing a whole season to the COVID-19 pandemic along with numerous games to lengthy suspensions and injuries.
Clarke started this season in Los Angeles playing nine games with the Kings and then joined Canada at the world junior hockey championships over Christmas where he led Canada to gold, before finally joining the Colts in mid-January.
“Absolutely,” the 19 year old said when asked if it felt good to make franchise history. “Sometimes when you’re just on the cusp of doing something like that there’s a slump, so I’m glad that wasn’t the case.
“I opened the scoring today and got the boys rolling, but it was a good feeling when everyone else came over the bench to me. That was pretty awesome too. Overall it was a real awesome moment that I got to share with everybody.”
Clarke has 29 goals and 107 assists in just 134 junior hockey games with Barrie.
“It’s a record that’s been held for 25 years or so. It’s cool that I’m at the top and now I can add on to it with 11 games (remaining). It was really cool to share that with the boys and I’m really honoured to hold that title for the Barrie organization.”
For Williamson, the mark is unbelievably impressive when you consider just how few games he’s played.
“There’s a lot of credit to him in so many different ways, but for him to come back and play as hard as he has and well as he has for us, I tip my hat to him,” said the Barrie coach. “It just shows the character and how competitive he is and how it doesn’t matter what team he’s on, he wants to win and help make that team better.”
Williamson praises his young star for his coachability.
Very few players, said the coach, see the game the way he does.
“There’s only the Gretzkys and the great players and you would think that they’re almost uncomfortable, but they’re not that way,” he said. “You hear stories about the great players and how they love to be coached and he’s that way to because he wants to keep getting better.
“There’s certain things we can’t help him in, but there’s certain things we can help him.”
Like any player chasing his dream, Clarke wanted to stay up in the NHL. The Kings, though, wanted their young star to take the extra year of development and then return next year to possibly play a bigger role.
“I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “For the time being in Barrie, I knew I wanted to come back and make a statement with how I play and I wanted to be the top player in this league and I think I’m really showing that.
“I’m just so happy to be with this group. There’s so many talented players, they help me out so much. I couldn’t do anything that I’m doing without them. With the calibre of forwards and my defensive partners that I have, I’m just really grateful for that. It’s really cool to do this with them.”
Clarke has been the force the Colts expected and then some. They’re a different team with him in the lineup.
“A hundred per cent,” said Williamson. “First of all, he makes everyone better and secondly you need stars to win in this league, a player that can do special things. It just elevates the whole team and we know we got one of those guys and that’s a real confident feeling.”
Roenick Jodoin, with a pair, Ethan Cardwell, Jacob Frasca, Tai York, Declan McDonnell, Beau Jelsma and Beau Akey also scored for Barrie (34-15-6-2), which also got a four-assist afternoon from Tyler Savard.
With the win, the Colts have won four straight and clinched a playoff spot. And, they just a point behind North Bay for top spot in the Central Division standings after the Battalion fell 8-2 in Sarnia.
Barrie blew the game open against Niagara with seven goals in the second period.
“I liked our first period. I thought we were a dominant team and just didn’t get rewarded,” said Williamson. “The rewards started coming in the second period. We made the investment to play the right way and that’s why I was happy with the guys.
“We kind of weaned in the third a little bit, but that can be overlooked. When you’re prepared to play and start the game like we did good things will happen.”
Daniel Michaud, Jacob Leblanc, Declan Waddick and Alex Assadourian scored for Niagara (11-38-7-1), which has won just two of its last 10 games and sits last overall in the OHL standings.
ICE CHIPS: Sam Hillebrandt replaced Barrie starting goalie Ben West at the start of the third period. West gave up two goals on eight shots, while Hillebrandt gave up two goals on 10 shots. . . The IceDogs gave Rosenzweig the mercy pull at the end of the second after he gave up eight goals on 33 shots. Owen Flores stopped 10 of 11 the rest of the way. . . Barrie outshot Niagara 52-18 and gave up fewer than 20 shots in all three wins this weekend. . . Beau Jelsma has scored in four straight games. . . Connor Punnett added two assists and now has 11 points in his last 10 games (4G, 7A).
Banner image: Terry Wilson/OHL Images