As you pass through the intersection of Idylwild and Circle Drive North in Saskatoon, you will notice a ‘new’ restaurant on the southeast corner by the Days Inn. One of Saskatchewan’s most storied NHL players is selling us food now. I came across this article/interview from 2017 in my archives and thought it might be a great time to bring it out:
Kelvington’s Wendel Clark did it all as a hockey player — hit, fight, score, skate.
He was a game-changing star on the Saskatoon Blades’ defensive corps, Toronto’s first overall choice in the 1985 NHL entry draft, and a long-serving NHL forward with 330 career goals. He currently works with the Maple Leafs as a community ambassador.
Clark, whose jersey No. 17 has been retired by the Maple Leafs, returns to Kelvington this weekend for the delivery of his old banner. The Maple Leafs have created new banners to hang at Air Canada Centre, and are turning the old ones over to the home towns of players whose numbers have been retired.
The official banner raising ceremony, which is part of a gala day, is Saturday at 2 p.m. at Kelvington Viterra Elevator.
We talked to Clark on Thursday about Kelvington, the NHL, and a guy named Auston Matthews.
Q: People in Kelvington talk about what Wendel Clark means to them. So what does Kelvington mean to Wendel Clark?
A: It’s home. It’s family. The upbringing, the roots you gained, the things you strive for in life all started with where you came from.
Q: You played with three different teams in back-to-back seasons — with the bantam squad in Yorkton, plus bantam and midget teams in Kelvington. Did you ever play multiple games in a single day?
A: Three or four games in a single day, easily. Provincials in Yorkton, and a tournament in Kelvington the same day. Yeah …
Q: What does that do to your body? Or when you’re that young, does it even matter?
A: As long as you’re feeling good, you’re just playing. It’s not called “work” out there.
Q: You were on skates at 18 months and playing organized hockey at age three for your dad Les, who played in the minor-pros. You and your brothers, Donn and Kerry, were all accomplished hockey players. Is it possible to summarize the importance your father Les had in your development?
A: He loved sports. Basically, we worked on the farm, and played sports, and hockey was always No. 1. We have long winters in Saskatchewan, and growing up around the rink and everything around hockey … it’s where your life skills are taught.
Q: Your father once said he was hard on you boys, but that if you were going to play hockey, he wanted you to play it right. Is there any one lesson, skill or philosophy he taught you that translated over to your hockey career?
A: Work ethic. And with that, the skills he taught us growing up — passing, shooting, skating. But the biggest thing that rubbed off is how much he loved to farm, and how much he loved the game of hockey. That translates over to the kids, because they see what their parents love.
With mom, it’s her dedication to raising a family and running the farm, always making sure us boys could play on every team and go school and do all of the above. She was the rock, so that everything could happen.
Q: The Regina Pats once held your rights, then dropped you off their list, and the Blades scooped you up. Have you ever heard anybody from the Pats express regret for that decision?
A: (Laughs) I wasn’t big enough, so they took me off the list. That was back when if you were on a list really young, you took up two spots. But I haven’t heard much (from Regina).
Q: After your rookie season in Toronto, you returned home for the summer, and played at the provincial men’s C softball championships. You pitched your team to a 5-2 win. Where was softball on your list of priorities?
A: Growing up in Saskatchewan, you played hockey all winter, and ball all summer. All the buddies you played hockey with, you played ball with. You took ball to the same level sometimes as hockey. I was a pitcher, shortstop … whatever (was needed).
Q: When the Leafs picked you with the first overall selection in 1985, scout Floyd Smith said: “He’ll be a star in this league. I don’t think there is any question of that. He’s a can’t-miss kid.” What kind of pressures comes to bear as an 18-year-old carrying those kinds of expectations?
A: As an 18-year-old, you’re so happy to be in the NHL you’re not worrying about that. When you play a few more years in the league, you maybe do a little more of that, but when you’re 18 years old, you finally got to play where you’ve dreamed of playing. You don’t add up the pressure. That’s about as much fun as it gets, when you get to play in the NHL.
Q: Do you ever ponder your career trajectory if the Leafs had kept you at defence, rather than shifting you to forward as a rookie?
A: Never really thought much about it. It could have been different, you never know, but that’s what fate delivered. No regrets.
Q: Touching on what you just said, what is your single biggest regret, and your single biggest triumph, at the NHL level?
A The regret, and I couldn’t control it, was health. You wish you’d played more, but that means I would have had to change my style, and that’s part of the player. You can’t have it both ways. Those are the cards I was dealt. And the triumph was playing the 15 years I did, meeting the people I met in the game. That’s the biggest thing, is the great people you meet from all over the world who play the game, manage the game, work the game.
Q: Your son, Kody, plays with the OHL’s Ottawa 67s. How does his upbringing in hockey contrast with your own?
A: Less travel. He grew up in the city, but he got to play, have fun, lots of ice time — a lot of the same things. But the biggest difference is he grew up in the city, and I grew up in a small town.
Q: You’ve watched Auston Matthews for more than a year. Is there any one player from your era he most closely compares to?
A: He’s a big man who can do it alone or play with anybody. He’s got immense skill; he’s a shooter, he’s a playmaker, he knows how to use his size. I don’t know who I would (compare him to). Everybody’s their own person, and he’s making a niche for himself. He’s his own guy.
Q: We asked Mike Babcock last year about the possibility of turning the Leafs franchise around, and he said, “It’s not if. It’s when.” What do you see from that team when you look, say, three years into the future?
A: They’ve got immense talent, and he’s a great coach. He’s going to steer them in the right direction. I think our main goal, if I’m a fan or an ex-player, is being in the playoffs every year. That’s the goal. Then when you get in the playoffs every year, you have that kick at the can, to see how far you go.
Q: So can they get the Leafs back into the Stanley Cup conversation?
A: I always hope we get there. But playoffs is first. The Stanley Cup’s the hardest thing in the world to win. You want to consistently be in the playoffs, and that gives us a run at being in the right spot.
Q: You had a lot of injuries as a player. You took a pounding. When you wake up in the morning now, do you know you were a hockey player, just because of how your body feels?
A: (Laughs) When I wake up in the morning, when I go to bed, when I walk around during the day. I pretty much always know I played the game. The body tells me.