After a successful professional rookie season in North America, Brandon's Andrew Clark will be taking his game overseas.
The 26-year-old former Brandon Wheat Kings forward inked a deal to play with the Esbjerg Energy of the Denmark's Elite League. He will be joined on the team by former Wheat King Mark Derlago. The opportunity came after Clark, who grew up partly in Brandon, was successful in both the American Hockey League and ECHL this past winter. In an interview during the season, when asked about what skills he was working on, he said:
"I think it is just to keep elevating my game," he said, noting he is working on an all-around solid game.
Clark started the 2013-2014 season with the ECHL's Stockton Thunder. After the 2012-2013 Canadian Interuniversity Sport season with Acadia University, Clark joined the Thunder and helped them make it to the Kelly Cup finals. During those playoffs, the 5-foot-11, 178-pound forward had seven goals and 21 points in 22 games. He said that playoff experience helped him get feet wet in the pro game and gain confidence.
Clark continued his strong play early in the 2013-2014 campaign for the Thunder. On Dec. 17, he was named the Sher-Wood Hockey ECHL Player of the Week after posting four goals and four assists in two games. That earned him a call-up from California to the Bridgeport (Conn.) Sound Tigers, the New York Islander's top affiliate.
"It was one of my goals I set for myself and that I achieved," Clark said of the call-up.
Moving to a level that is just a call-up away from the NHL was certainly a step up.
"You are one step away," Clark said. "Guys are bigger, stronger, and faster. (You're) just trying to keep up and I think I did."
In 35 AHL games, Clark scored seven goals, had 19 points, and received 12 penalty minutes.
"It is obviously a nice feeling to know that you can produce and compete at that level," he said.
Late in March, Clark was returned to the Thunder. The squad was certainly pleased to have the high-scoring forward back in the lineup.
"He's a complete two-way player and he does a lot of things," Thunder head coach Rich Kromm told the Stockton Record. "He's a real leader for us and getting him back is huge."
On the season, Clark scored 14 goals and posted 35 points in 31 games in the ECHL.
Growing up in Manitoba, hockey was definitely a big part of Clark's life. His minor hockey career started in Carberry and he would go on to play in Brandon. Clark has great memories of the backyard rink his grandfather made him.
"I got my equipment on and skated out to the rink," he said, noting he appreciates the support of his entire family.
During the2004-2005, Clark posted 46 points in 58 games for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League's Neepawa Natives. He earned a spot on the MJHL All-Rookie Team. The next season Clark embarked on a four-year Western Hockey League career with the Wheat Kings.
"I grew up watching the Wheat Kings," he said. "It was a good feeling playing for your hometown team."
Clark believes his time with the squad helped his game and he emphasized he met a lot of good people. He feels that being in Brandon and having long road trips is beneficial as it helped the team bond.
"You spend a lot of time with these guys and you get to know guys," Clark said. "You get to hold guys accountable. You can call out one of your brothers."
In his WHL final season, Clark scored 40 goals and had 78 points in 72 games and helped the Wheat Kings make the Eastern Conference finals. He earned the opportunity to play for Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. Clark enjoyed the small town atmosphere and the opportunity to experience a different culture. He was pleased to earn a kinesiology degree and to share the experience with his then girlfriend, who is now his wife.
On the ice, Clark was a force at for the Axemen. He earned many honours, including being named the CIS Player of the Year in 2012 and earning All-Canadian honours.
Clark believes playing at the CIS level helped him improve his game. He feels the quality of play at the level is often underrated.
"You play the same teams over and over again. You get to have those little battles with guys on other teams," Clark said. "They are almost all like playoff games."
All of those experiences have led him to this point. Clark plans to spend the summer visiting family and friends, working out at Crossfit Rocked in Brandon, and preparing for his first season overseas.
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