Ian Braisby explains why he’s very pleased to see David Clarke return to Nottingham Panthers
Yesterday saw the announcement that David Clarke will be back in a Panthers shirt next season, with a new role as player/assistant coach. Like most recruitment news, this has sparked lively debate among the fans. Personally, I was delighted with the move but others are not so enthusiastic despite his many years’ service to the club as player and captain, it seems there is no universal love for Clarkey among Panthers fans. So I thought I’d write this piece to explain why I think it’s a positive step.
The only place you can really start any discussion about David Clarke is with his goals – more than 350 in competitive action for Panthers and counting. While you need a mixture of players to create a great roster, goals win games and, even at the age of 34, Clarke can still score them. While he may not be as prolific as he was a few years ago, he contributed 20 goals last season, the third highest on the team behind Kolnik and Bohmbach. Even more important, it was the highest by any British player in the EIHL. In an import-dominated league, we all know that getting a solid contribution from your Brits is crucial and Clarke delivers a consistent goal return year after year. I honestly feel that many Panthers fans take Clarke for granted, which can often happen when you’ve played for a team forever and a day. People look at the decline in the numbers and say his time is done. Don’t be taken in – the simple fact is that there is nobody out there we could sign who would be guaranteed to match Clarkey’s goal tally, even though it’s not quite at the same level as four or five seasons previously. Ask every other team if they’d like a consistent 20+ goal scorer who’s a Brit and they would leap at the chance. In fact they’d probably be rather bemused as to why his current club wouldn’t want him back in the first place. I think Panthers fans need to take a step back and remember that, in David Clarke the goalscorer, we have something every rival club would love to have.
I suppose the question mark over Clarke has never really been his goals, though. There are many who question his all-round game. The simple response would be – he scores us 20-30 goals a season, that’s his contribution, we have other players to do the other stuff. It’s like when people criticise stay-at-home defencemen for not scoring more points. But actually I don’t even think it’s a valid criticism of Clarkey these days anyway. Certainly early in his career he was more of a pure sniper and that could definitely be frustrating, to me as much as to any Panthers fan. But one of the reasons I respect him so much as a player is that he has worked hard to improve his game and eliminate some of the defensive weaknesses he initially showed. In the past few seasons, I think he has grown into more of an all-round contributor who the coach can call on in most game situations. He’s not just out there waiting for the scoring opportunity. In fact, because he’s a senior player and has had the responsibility of captaincy, he can sometimes try too hard! I wouldn’t claim he’s the best two-way forward in the league by any means but he is not the one-dimensional player some claim.
So much for the playing side. David Clarke will now move into a coaching role and that is something I welcome. Whatever people think of him as a captain – and opinions are certainly divided there – it is fair to say that he is a leader in the dressing room, the player with the most experience of our league, our club and the quirks of our officials. It is blatantly obvious that he has the full respect of his team-mates and that both younger British players and imports alike look up to him. He is at the stage of his career where he needs to be thinking about the future and taking his first steps into coaching is a logical step for him. The respect he has from players will stand him in good stead, and he has the opportunity to learn from the more senior coaches Neilson and Strachan. Better to have his experience contributing to our club than somewhere else, I would say. Who knows, he might be a future head coach
Finally, I want to talk about Clarke the man, at least as much as I can without knowing him personally. Throughout his career, he has conducted himself as a true professional. Sure, he has had injury problems, but apart from that he has always kept himself at a great level of fitness. He gets wound up at times on the ice but doesn’t get involved in unsavoury incidents, nor does he spout off in interviews or on social media as some do. In fact, he comes across as a quietly spoken, humble guy who appreciates the opportunities hockey has given him. What’s more, he has an affinity with our club. He understands what it means to the fans, appreciates the history and is proud to represent the Nottingham Panthers. That kind of thing counts for a lot with me.
Overall, I think we should be well pleased with yesterday’s announcement. We have re-signed the league’s best British goalscorer, who has still got what it takes to contribute in the EIHL, a team leader, a great role model for younger players and a man who has been a tremendous representative and ambassador for our club. What more do some people want? Just pause for a minute, think about what he brings to the table, everybody get together and join me in wishing David Clarke every success in the next phase of his Nottingham Panthers career.
You can follow Ian on Twitter @ianbraisby