TORONTO – David Clarkson wouldn’t blame John Scott or anyone else. Not this time.
More than 48 hours after leaving the bench to enter the line brawl between his Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres to come to the defence of teammate Phil Kessel, a contrite Clarkson accepted his automatic, 10-game suspension even while justifying his actions.
“I’m a grown man and I’m going to take this one for what I did and be held accountable,” Clarkson said. “I’m not appealing it. I’m going to take it, and I’m going to work hard to get back.”
Clarkson broke his silence after playing in the Leafs’ 3-2 pre-season loss to the Ottawa Senators, apologizing for not addressing the situation before. The 29-year-old right-winger said he wanted to wait to get official word from the NHL about the suspension and then didn’t want to be a distraction on a game day.
It was another case of Clarkson trying to do what he figured was right for the team. When he did that Sunday night upon seeing Sabres tough guy John Scott going after Kessel, it got him into this mess that will cost him almost $270,000.
“I think I sometimes make decisions with my heart, not my head,” Clarkson said. “I saw a teammate that I felt was in trouble, and my reaction was to help. You can have many different opinions, but that was my mind-set going in. I was just going there to go to help and settle things down. That was the intent.”
Teammates admired Clarkson’s intent, so much so that he said everyone in the locker room expressed support for sticking up for Kessel. There was no hesitation in leaving the bench to leap to the aid of someone Clarkson has only called a teammate since July.
It was simply a gut instinct, albeit a very costly one.
“It’s like if you have a little brother and you feel like he’s in trouble or you feel like there’s a situation you can get out and help,” Clarkson said. “That was the feeling I had in my belly. I had feeling to do something, and I’ve got to pay the consequences for it. That was the feeling, it was to go out and to try and help or to calm down a situation and now I’ll serve my 10 games and come back better for it.”
Clarkson never conceded regret about a “split-second” decision. He never said the result would have been different if he had to replay the incident over again.
“The part that sucks is that I’m missing these games,” he said. “But at the same time I think defending teammates is something that’s just in me. It’s what I’ve done my whole life and I think that the 10 games thing obviously is tough to swallow, but when there’s rules out there in place, you’ve got to abide by them.”
Coach Randy Carlyle, whom Clarkson said has been “supportive” since the brawl happened and the suspension was handed down, called the rationale “more of an old-time hockey explanation.” Clarkson brings the kind of tools that make him a throwback player, but this wasn’t what the Leafs signed up for when they gave him a seven-year, US$36.75-million contract.
But Carlyle said earlier Tuesday that he can sense the “burning desire” Clarkson has to make a difference. It’s one he won’t be able to do on the ice until Toronto’s 11th game Oct. 25 at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I’ll say sorry to the fans or anybody who’s disappointed, but I was going out there and what I felt like (was) my teammates in here are first to me,” Clarkson said. “That’s what’s gotten me to where I am in my career, that’s why I believe I’m here. I think that’s just the person I am. If anyone was in trouble in here, I would try to go to help and that was what I did.”
Until he can make his regular-season debut, Clarkson resigned himself to being “the biggest cheerleader” he can be. Oct. 25 feels “very far” away.
“This is one of the toughest things I’ve been through in my career, especially being excited to be somewhere, just getting used to things,” he said. “But no one in life is perfect, and when you make a mistake you’ve got to live up to it and deal with it.”