With the Air Canada Centre packed with 19,474 Maple Leafs fans sporting ‘staches and clutching the bobblehead of their favorite marauding, goal-scoring Bud, the scene was set for Wendel Clark’s banner raising in Toronto on Saturday night.
The Leafs players hit the ice for the pre-game skate, all wearing vintage Leafs jerseys and Clark’s No. 17. After a short video tribute featuring some of the left winger’s biggest goals, fights and hits – are you OK yet, Bruce Bell? – Clark walked out to center ice on a red carpet, accompanied by his wife and three children, and soaked up the love from his always adoring fans.
For close to five minutes, the ACC faithful stood and cheered the native of Kelvington, Sask., who was drafted No. 1 overall in 1985 and arrived in time to help save a franchise that was falling fast.
In a short, emotional speech, Clark said his two most treasured moments as a hockey player were when he was drafted by Toronto and when he was named captain of the Leafs.
Then he added a third occasion: “Being here tonight, knowing my number will be in this building forever, up there with those great players…”
51 for 17
The No. 17 has been worn by 51 players on Maple Leafs history, but none have put it on since Clark. Here’s a sampling of some of the other Leafs who have skated with the one-seven: Dick Duff, Brian Conacher, Harvey ‘Busher’ Jackson, Floyd Smith, ‘Wild’ Bill Ezinicki, Gerry Ehman, Cal Gardner, Bronco Horvath, Jerry Butler, Bruce Boudreau, Rick Kehoe and Don McKenny.
No Leaf played more games with Clark than…defenseman Todd Gill’s 316.
All Wendel, all the time
Clark, and various tributes to the two-fisted goal-scorer, appeared on the scoreboard several times throughout the game. He was interviewed during the first period and vignettes of his greatest moments and plays appeared during breaks in the action of the Leafs-Hawks game (which, after a slow first period, picked up steam and got better and better until David Bolland ended the contest early in overtime.)
Et tu, Patrick, et tu?
A Canadian Press reporter sitting beside me up in the ACC press box during Clark’s ceremony received a text message from a reporter at the Bell Centre in Montreal during Roy’s banner raising. It said: “Unbelievable. The place shook. And shook. And shook.”
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.