While the puck never dropped on an OHL season, that hasn’t stopped the continued rise of Brandt Clarke as one of the world’s top junior hockey players.
Fresh off an impressive performance in Europe with Slovakia’s HC Nove Zamky, the Barrie Colts defenceman and top NHL draft prospect has played a key role in Canada’s undefeated performance at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Under-18 World Hockey Championships in Frisco, Texas.
Clarke, who has two goals and three assists in five games and makes up half of the top pairing on Canada’s blue line, will look to lead the national team into the gold medal game when they take on Sweden at the Comerica Centre at 5 p.m. tonight.
“He looks like a man out there,” Colts acting GM Marty Williamson said of the blue liner who could go as high as No. 1 in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. “He’s put on another 10-15 pounds. He looks bigger, he looks stronger.
“He’s always been a confident player, he’s just so calm and collected. I watched him hang onto the puck and make his passes and he’s just one step ahead out there.”
A win against the Swedes — Canada hammered them 12-1 in the preliminary round — and Clarke and the national team will face the winner of tonight’s Finland and Russia semi-final for gold on Thursday night.
“It’s an exciting time for him,” Williamson said. “Hopefully win a gold medal, and he’s showing he deserves to be at the top of that (NHL) draft. We’re pulling for him.”
Clarke was expected to be leading a Colts team into contending status this season, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the OHL season and the experience he’s gaining now should only help a Barrie team that will be looking to do big things next season.
“We expect to be a strong team,” Williamson said.
The Colts acting GM says the organization likely wouldn’t have made any big moves this season unless they landed a player who would play in the 2021-22 season.
“Everything has been kind of focused on this (coming) year,” he said.
But Williamson knows things can change when players like Clarke and forward Tyson Foerster continue to develop into top players.
Clarke isn’t the only Colt to have taken a major step forward this season in his development.
Innisfil native and forward Tyson Foerster, a 2020 first-round pick of the Flyers, has been making quite the impression in his rookie professional season with Philadelphia’s American Hockey League affiliate in Lehigh Valley.
After an early leg injury that forced him to miss several weeks, Forester has returned to post nine goals and five assists for 14 points in 20 games.
“You make your best plans and all of a sudden (Foerster’s) playing in the NHL or Brandt Clarke goes No. 1 and he’s playing in the NHL, and you have to go to Plan B or Plan C,” Williamson said.
“We’ve got a good hockey team and if those pieces are all there, then we start talking about championships and having a real successful season. If you lose a guy or two, then you’ve got to make some adjustments and see what prices are to replace a guy like that, though you can’t really replace (a Foerster or Clarke).”
banner image: Terry Wilson Photo/OHL Images