Having No. 17 on your side always was a good thing

DOUG GILMOUR

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

During a recent interview I was asked who my favourite Maple Leaf of all time was.

My answer: Wendel Clark.

That has nothing to do with disrespecting names like Sundin, Salming, Keon and Sittler. Players like that are all-time franchise greats. But I never had the pleasure of lacing up the blades with them and going to battle as teammates with the Maple Leafs like I did with Wendel in the early 1990s.

During our stint together, I got to see just what a standup guy he was.

On the ice, he was a ferocious competitor. More importantly, he always was there to support his teammates, whatever dicey situation might rear its ugly head.

One of my all-time favourite Wendel stories occurred during a game against the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks' resident tough guy at the time was Gino Odjick. Gino was pals with Pavel Bure, the Canucks superstar who usually couldn't be touched without Odjick hunting the assailant down.

On this particular occasion, Odjick had taken a couple of shots at me. Nothing bad. I could handle myself. I'd received a lot worse treatment over the years.

Nevertheless, Wendel would have none of it.

He took matters into his own hands.

He skated up to Bure and said: "I've seen enough. If Odjick touches Gilmour one more time, I'll take YOUR head off!"

Bure must have passed on the message. Odjick never touched me he rest of the game.

I remember seeing Wendel talking to Bure. I couldn't hear the conversation, so when Wendel came back to the bench, I asked him what he said to The Russian Rocket.

When he told me, I howled with laughter.

Let's keep things in perspective. Wendel didn't mean it. He was not about to take anyone's head off. He was not that type of player.

Having said that, it was clear what Wendel was trying to do. He was sticking up for a teammate -- namely me.

That was Wendel. You just didn't mess with one of his boys.

Wendel's character was intoxicating. He was so easy going. And let's face it, he had to do the role nobody likes. To his credit, he didn't just drop the gloves each time the opportunity came. He picked his spots.

In the end, Wendel Clark made our entire team that much bigger.

I think the biggest thing with Wendel was his leadership. He was friends with everyone. He was so easy going with everyone. Yet when that first puck dropped on a game, no one was more competitive.

We never won a Stanley Cup together for the Leafs, which was our goal, but it didn't come from a lack of trying.

Congratulations, Wendel, on having your No. 17 hoisted into the rafters alongside those of the Sittlers and Salmings. You deserve it.

Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark led the Maple Leafs to hockey's Final Four in 1993 and '94. Gilmour's No. 93 will be honoured Jan. 31 at the Air Canada Centre.


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