Story by: Jamie Neugebauer, Media Coordinator
Image by: OJHL Images
Yearly roster turnover is an unavoidable part of junior hockey.
Occasionally, that also means that team captains move on – even ones as meaningful to an organization as Jeremy Szabo was to the North York Rangers for the past 10-plus years.
With that in mind, the North York Rangers have named 1997-born forward Kyle Clarke captain for the 2016-17 season, replacing Szabo, who graduated after holding the honour for last two seasons in junior hockey.
Clarke, 19, has appeared in 127 regular and post-season Ontario Junior Hockey League contests, all for the Rangers, and posted 18 goals and 42 points over that span.
Taking over the mantle from a leader like Szabo is clearly not something Clarke takes lightly.
“I definitely looked up to him,” said Clarke.
“He was a great captain, one of the better ones I have had over my hockey career so far. It was important for me to see how he handled himself, how he demonstrated a controlled attitude toward his emotions, and rarely showed his stress or anxiety in tough situations. He was a good player for us, dedicated to the room, and I really hope to take some of those things that he preached through his actions to my captaincy.”
That being said, Clarke has some experience of his own in leadership situations. He was an above point-per-game player as captain of the 2013-14 Toronto Red Wings midgets, and was a key leader on the 2012-13 Red Wings minor midgets that reached the OHL Cup. The Mississauga native was also named to an all-star ‘Gold Cup’ roster as a result of his performance at that prestigious event.
“It is a big honour [to be named captain], it always is,” he said.
“I have always seen myself as a leader, and I really don’t feel like I have to change much of my game with the ‘C’ on my chest. Back when I was brought in by [then coach] John Dean a couple of years ago I was asked to be a hard-working guy, and I have always taken it to heart in my junior career to want to be the hardest working guy on the squad, on and off the ice.”
Clarke shone last season on a very underrated line, alongside Nick Zanette and Louis Kereakou, and despite playing the role of the ‘energy unit’, the three combined for 47 goals and 96 points in the regular season, and eight points in 11 playoff contests.
As a captain, and a player with a history of being a go-to point producer, Clarke does not plan to shy away from the added pressure, and it is that understanding and maturity, along with his on-ice tenacity, that clearly played into Coach Brent Hughes’ decision to name Clarke the newest captain of the club.
“Growing up I had the experience of being a guy that my coaches could count on to be a scorer,” he said, “but you always have to accept that there are guys better suited to different roles.
“Obviously next year I want to score more and put up more numbers, and I do have expectations for myself, but I know as a club we have a lot of great weapons, a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net, so I know it isn’t necessarily on me to dominate on the score sheet. I love to be physical and do the little things, to work hard, and if our team is winning like I know we are capable as a group, those other personal things will follow.”