Friday, March 29, 2013

A more confident David Clarkson has arrived

By Larry Wigge

If he hadn't score 30 goals last season, David Clarkson wouldn't have even considered going to Austria during the lockout. Unless, it was on a ski vacation weekend.

Until last season, the Toronto, Ontario, native, wasn't didn't accomplish anything -- unless it was as as a competitor, a battler. Clarkson agonizes over each potential goal-scoring chance that he failed to score on.

But reject the fact that he had career-high of 17 goals, which was obliterated. There certainly is no quit in him. He's a character player nobody would doubt. And he proved his outlook was well beyond the 30 goals he had.

Clarkson played the entire 2012 playoffs with a fractured foot. It did not require surgery in the offseason and did not keep him on the injury list, which would have allowed him to be paid during the lockout.

So with that behind him -- and with his future ahead -- you could expect him to want to go somewhere to get his feeling back and his touch. You don't go score three goals in 24 playoffs games -- all three were game-winning goals in leading the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cups finals before losing out to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.

David converted the game-winning goal in Game 2 and 5 against Philadelphia in the second round and in Game 2 against the New York Rangers in the Conference Finals. And, to fulfill his touch and key playmaking ability, in Game 4 of the Cup finals, Clarkson picked up a turnover at center ice, he quickly turned into transition mode. He skated into the offensive zone and quickly sent a cross-ice pass to Henrique, who corralled the puck and flipped a wrist shot past Jonathan Quick's glove side.

"I was feeling better and was able to train. It had healed. I was kind of back on the ice," Clarkson said of the injury, but during the lockout, "To be honest, that never crossed my mind."

The confident right winger went over to Austria to play games, with a purpose.

"It was a totally different style," he said. "More ice. Puck possession. Over there, there was more ice and more opportunities to do different things with the puck -- that I wasn't used to."

Thus, the change in David's game. No longer playing in the shadow of Zack Parise, who bolted via free agency to the Minnesota Wild, this was the new Clarkson.

He bolted from the start of the season with 11 goals in the first 13 games.

Clarkson gave his team a 2-0 lead midway into the second on a great individual effort in following up a rebound for the 12th goal. Zajac took the initial shot from the right circle that hit Clemmensen high on the chest and dropped in front of him. Clarkson jammed the loose puck into the cage for a 2-1 victory over Florida earlier this week.

"It was a shot on net and the rebound sat on part of the goalie's pad that bends and I was just digging," Clarkson said. "It was a little grinder's goal. I saw it, and reached, and saw it there and kept whacking."

Is he motivated?

"One-hundred percent," Clarkson said forcefully. "Do I think people doubted me scoring 30 goals? Yes, I do." 

"For Clarkie to score 30 was no fluke," said goaltender Marty Brodeur. "I see him in practice every day. He's around the puck. It could be behind the net, a chaotic position in front of the net, he can get a quick shot off. He wants to score, he wants to go to the net with the puck.

"It's tough for a goalie when you have a guy hanging around your goal all the time."

Vintage David Clarkson, the undrafted free agent, who played for Devils coach Peter DeBoer in Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey Association. 

DeBoer is proud of Clarkson and his accomplishments as an NHLer. Clarkson and DeBoer won together in junior, including a Memorial Cup championship with the 2002-03 Kitchener Rangers.

But, there is more to it. When he was 18, Clarkson, in fact, credits DeBoer with talking him out of quitting hockey.

Clarkson did quit ... in fact.

Devastated by the loss of two grandparents within three months, Clarkson lost his passion for the game and was set to walk away from his junior career with Kitchener. It was his coach at the time, DeBoer, who convinced him to return.

"I lost two of my grandparents in one year. I lost them both within three months. I was a young kid, 17- 18-years-old, and it was tough to swallow," Clarkson recalled. "He convinced me to come back. I ... wasn't sure I wanted to play after that."

Both of his parents worked when he was growing up. Thus, his grandparents were like second parents to him. Neither of them was ill ... it was ...

His grandmother woke up one morning with a cough and died of cancer a month later of complications from the cough. His grandfather had a seizure in a washroom and wasn't found until three days later.

Those were both devastating ... especially to a young kid. He wanted to quit living.

Said DeBoer, "I'm sure he'll tell you he's been good for me and saved my career and I'll probably tell you I saved his."

But DeBoer naturally sees a different player other than the 28-year-old Clarkson from his junior days?

"He's more mature," the Devils coach said. "He's found his identity and role as a player. In Kitchener, he did a lot more fighting, a lot like he did early in his NHL career.

"He's established to everybody in the league what he is now and he's a valuable guy on the ice. There's only a handful of guys in the league -- Milan Lucic, James Neal, Scott Hartnell, David Backes, Ryan Malone, Clarkson, those type of players that can score the type of goals they score and are willing to do the dirty work, too."

That to DeBoer is the difference in David Clarkson.

Said DeBoer, "He's a big game ... big goal scorer."

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