Clarke finds ways to make himself useful

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Earlier this season Matt Clarke was sitting in the stands without a place to play for the London Knights.

Today he's sitting on top of the world, knowing there's a spot for him somewhere in the lineup.

How things change.

Clarke, a role player in the true definition of the word, moved from his natural forward's position to the blue-line when his team found itself desperate for a healthy body on defence.

A team player in the true definition of the word, Clarke went about the business of learning the position as best he could.

Saturday night in Owen Sound, he scored the biggest goal off his career. His overtime winner gave the Knights a 2-0 lead over the Attack in their best-of-seven Ontario Hockey League Western Conference quarter-final series.

The fact that Clarke scored is a microcosm of the way the series has gone so far.

The Attack are sitting somewhere this morning, wondering what they have to do to beat the Knights and who, besides leader Bobby Ryan, is going to step up.

Clarke is the latest Knight to step up and respond.

The Attack have outshot the Knights badly in the first two games but have nothing to show for it, other than a great deal of frustration. Knights goalie Steve Mason has made big save after big save but the Attack haven't made the big play when they needed to.

The Knights got four goals from Dave Meckler in Game 1, including a winner that was constructed by the hard work of Justin Taylor, another player who comes in under the radar. Saturday it was Clarke who came through despite playing a position he's not all that familiar with.

One of the questions heard most often this year around OHL rinks is "how do the Knights keep winning."

They get pressure goaltending and they know how to perform under pressure.

This is Clarke's second year with London. He signed as a free agent after playing for the London Junior Knights.

He's another of those useful players found by Knights general manager Mark Hunter.

There was a time this year when Clarke was a healthy scratch for six games.

"That was the low point of the year for me but they kept telling me to keep working hard. And then I got back in the lineup as a forward," Clarke said.

"But we always thought he could play defence," Knights assistant coach Todd Bidner said. "He's good defensively, he could skate and pivot and he can handle the puck with the hook around the net. If you can handle that, the other team has trouble forechecking and can't set up the trap."

"The hook" is when a defenceman takes the puck on the fly and swings quickly around the net.

All that technical stuff is something Clarke had to learn because when Kevin Montgomery and Rob Drummond got hurt, the Knights needed help on the blue-line. Even with Montgomery getting close to returning from a leg injury, look for Clarke to continue as a defenceman and when needed, he'll be a valuable asset as a forward.

"That's exactly, exactly what I expect . . . to move where I'm needed," Clarke said. "If I stay back there, and it looks like I will, that's fine with me. I'll just keep working on it. The more I play back there, the more comfortable I get."

But he does admit to feeling a few nerves when playing the point.

"The nerves where high," he said. "You are the last line back there because if you make a mistake it can be really costly. At forward, you miss a pass or miss a puck, you have the (defence) to back you up. You miss something on (defence) and it's only the goalie so the onus is on you."

As for his big goal, he was still taking congratulatory telephone calls the next morning.

"My parents couldn't make it to the game. So they watched it (on television). My mom jumped 10 feet off the couch. I guess the phone just rang off the hook all night," Clarke said.

You could say that Clarke engineered the win, something he hopes to do more of. He's taking courses at University of Western Ontario in engineering. One is calculus in applied mathematics. Another is material science dealing with metals and he also has a computer science course.

Learning something new doesn't appear to be much of a problem.


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