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Spotlight on Mat Clark

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May 5, 2015

 

On March 2nd of 2015, the Avalanche traded Michael Sgarbossa to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Mat Clark. The move was, presumably, designed to bolster the blueline of Colorado’s then AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.

While born in Lakewood, Colorado, Clark was raised in Milton, Ontario. Thus, it wasn’t surprising that he chose to take the OHL route instead of NCAA. Selected 11th overall by the Brampton Battalion in the 2006 OHL Priority Selection, he spent the next two seasons playing for the Battalion’s junior club, the Brampton Capitals.

After a solid two seasons, ending with a goal and four assists in 8 playoff games, Clark was promoted to the Battalion for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. During that tenure, the Anaheim Ducks drafted Clark (2009) in the second round (37th overall) of the NHL Entry Draft.

After the Battalion’s season finished in 2010, Clark played in one game to finish out the AHL season for the Duck’s affiliate at that time, the Manitoba Moose. Clark started his pro career in earnest with the Ducks’s new affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, in 2010. There, he solidified his reputation as a blueline bruiser, leading the Crunch with 128 penalty minutes. The learning curve was long for Clark, and while he only put up 16 points (2g,4a) in 80 games, his play improved as the season wore on.

His point totals were much the same for the Crunch’s regular season in 2011-2012 despite an injury that kept him out of 13 games, tallying one goal and one assist in the four-game playoff run that ended Syracuse’s season with only one victory in the first round. That summer, he was re-signed by the Ducks as a restricted free agent to a one-year deal.

Clark continued to struggle offensively, but maintained a solid presence on the blueline, the next season with the Norfolk Admirals (another new AHL club for the Ducks). He even played two games for Anaheim, with coach Bruce Budreau saying that he settled down quickly and played a reliable game without costly rookie mistakes.

Clark realized that he needed to simplify his game at the NHL level, saying, “I think I simplified [my game] and found a niche and found a way they could use me effectively. I’m not going to be a guy who is going to be on the power play up there or anything like that. I found a way to simplify my game, play hard, physical, block shots, and be reliable up there.”

Unfortunately, 2013-14 was cut short to only 23 games after suffering a season-ending injury (torn labrum). Again, the Ducks re-signed Clark to one year, clearly wanting to see more improvement before committing fully.

The defenseman finally saw real NHL minutes in 2014, though it only lasted for 7 games, spending more time as a healthy scratch than a contributing factor. He had one assist and six penalty minutes, becoming expendable for the Ducks. The trade to Colorado was inevitable as he was looking more and more like an AHL-only talent.

He remained in the AHL for the remainder of the season, putting up one more assist in his 21 games with the Colorado affiliate Lake Erie Monsters.

While his on-ice career has been middling at best, Mat Clark has been a star off the ice. Throughout his career, he has dedicated countless hours to various charity organizations, even starting a couple of fundraising campaigns of his own. The Norfolk Admirals were so impressed by his efforts that he was named their 2013-14 IOA/American Specialty Man of the Year. His list of achievements is long. Among them, Clark

• raised $1.1 million for the Special Olympics with the annual Polar Plunge Winter Festival
• secured the adoption of several dogs by visiting the Norfolk SPCA and using his celebrity to draw awareness to the cause
• taught students at various schools the importance of nutrition and exercise
met with and brought presents to children at the New Horizons Center for Autism and at a local hospice for children with cancer
promoted events and awareness for the American Cancer Society
• created a GoFundMe account for Josh Towers, a Norfolk EMT and volunteer firefighter who suffered a neck and back injury in a car accident, an injury that left the father and his pregnant wife without an income shortly before the holiday season

Mat’s biggest efforts, though, focus on ovarian cancer in honor of his grandmother who was diagnosed with the disease. Not only has he established his own fundraising site with proceeds supporting the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, he has been an integral part of events at business throughout Norfolk to generate money for the cause. Personally, he donated $10 for every standings point the Admirals garnered during the season.

Clark says he models his game after the Avs’ own Adam Foote. Given his proclivity for being intimidating on the ice while soft-hearted off of it, it seems he has embraced the Foote spirit. Though his professional projection may see him play out his career in the minors, his contributions to the community will make him a fan favorite wherever he goes.

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