TORONTO – Wendel Clark figures he’s completed the career hat trick.
The former Maple Leafs captain watched his No. 17 raised to the rafters at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, completing a journey that started when the team drafted him first overall in 1985.
Clark’s 15-year NHL career took him to other cities but his heart always remained in Toronto. Seeing his banner beside Leaf legends like Frank Mahovlich, Turk Broda and George Armstrong was the crowning achievement of his time in hockey.
“Several years ago when I retired as a player, I stated the two proudest moments of my hockey career were when I was drafted first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs and second, the day I was named captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Clark said during a brief speech. “Tonight’s the official hat trick.”
He’s the 16th player to be honoured by the blue and white, although the only two jerseys officially retired by the team are Bill Barilko’s No. 5 and Ace Bailey’s No. 6.
Clark is a former No. 1 overall draft pick that quickly developed into one of the most popular players in franchise history.
He had three different stints with the Maple Leafs and remains employed by the team as a community ambassador. Clark often played a reckless style of game during his prime – demonstrating as much willingness to check and fight as he did to trying to score.
The physical side of his game was highlighted during a video montage that was shown before Clark’s banner was raised. Fans cheered loudest for shots of him fighting former heavyweights Marty McSorley and Bob Probert along with the famous clip of him knocking out St. Louis Blues defenceman Bruce Bell with a devastating hit behind the goal.
The sellout crowd gave Clark a standing ovation as he, wife Denise and their three children walked to centre ice following the video.
“I thank you the fans of Toronto,” said Clark. “You’re the greatest fans in the world. (This is) the greatest place to play hockey.”
The tributes for Clark went beyond the banner raising.
The Leafs players took the warmup in vintage Clark jerseys and many fans in the stands wore stick-on handlebar moustaches that were given out at the door along with Clark bobbleheads.
There was also a couple days of lead-up where several people associated with the Leafs revisited Clark’s injury-shortened career. He produced 330 goals and 564 points during 793 NHL games but left a legacy that went beyond the numbers.
“He was an ultimate team type player,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “If anybody on the team was violated, you got an instant response from Wendel Clark. A physical player who had surprising ability to be able to score. …
“I could imagine having a guy like that on your team. I think every coach wants a couple of guys who play like Wendel Clark.”
The organization will honour another former captain before the end of the season. Doug Gilmour’s No. 93 will be raised to the roof in a ceremony on Jan. 31.