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Greats of the Game: Bobby Clarke
by Chris Foreman, Correspondent

Armed with a pitchfork in his hand, and a gap-toothed scowl of enthusiasm and determination, Bobby Clarke wreaked havoc on the league as the swift-skating leader of the "Broad Street Bullies."

Born Aug. 13, 1949 in Flin Flon, Manitoba, the lifetime Philadelphia Flyer had an appetite for destruction, playing a tenacious and passionate brand of hockey night-in and night-out. And he demanded a similar effort from those who joined him in the Philadelphia locker room.

Maturing into a star in "the City of Brotherly Love," Clarke effectively executed the role of "big brother," guiding his team through the ups-and-downs of the National Hockey League. His demonic style was quite contradictory of his angelic-looking face. Such an evil on-ice demeanor caused visitors to The Spectrum to suffer from the mysterious "Philly Flu," of which the symptoms included extreme intimidation and uncontrollable trepidation.

Clarke's infatuation with hockey was explicit at the age of eight. Claiming he was a year older, he squeezed his way onto a pee-wee hockey team.

At the age of 15, however, Clarke's aspirations hit thin ice as he learned that he had diabetes, a condition in which a person cannot burn the sugar that he or she consumes. The illness required that Clarke give himself an insulin injection every morning to avoid the loss of coordination and vision, listlessness, fainting or in extreme cases, convulsions.

It was that very malady which nearly cost Clarke a shot at the National Hockey League. Despite two magnificent seasons for his hometown Flin Flon Bombers of the Western Canada Junior Hockey League, and medical clearance to play professionally from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Clarke slipped into the second round of the 1969 Amateur Draft where the Flyers snatched him as the 17th overall selection.

Clarke compiled back-to-back scoring titles in two full seasons in Flin Flon, accumulating 168 and 137 points, respectively during the 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons. In fact, the league's current incarnation, the Western Hockey League named the trophy awarded to its top scorer in Clarke's honor.

He continued to exhibit his flair for the game in his first training camp with Philadelphia in 1969, surprising many by working his way onto the roster. Once securing his position on the team, Clarke went about his spirited play on not only an even-strength shift, but also on the power-play and short-handed units.

His point production steadily improved from 46 in his rookie campaign to 104 in 1972-73. Clarke attained superstardom status that season, as he became the first player from a modern-day expansion team to reach the century mark, collected the Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player and acquired the captaincy. At 23, coach Fred Shero made Clarke the youngest-ever to sport the "C" on his sweater.

For his efforts, Clarke received a seven-year contract worth $140,000 per season. However, he opted instead to take $50,000 a year for 21 years, essentially making him a stalwart of the Philadelphia payroll until 1994.

Preceding the events of that year was another defining incident in Clarke's career. In a September 1972 battle against the Soviet National team, the Team Canada center singlehandedly knocked winger Valeri Kharlamov out of the series. With one infamous whack at his skates, Clarke upended the Russian star and his team's hopes of victory. The Canadians went on to prevail, largely due to Clarke's vicious slash.

His competitive drive reappeared one year later as Clarke carried the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup over the Boston Bruins, as Philadelphia became the earliest modern-day expansion franchise to win the National Hockey League's post-season tournament.

The Flyers repeated the feat in 1974-75 against Buffalo, in Clarke's second award-winning season. Clarke scored 27 goals and recorded 89 assists en route to his second Hart Trophy.

He added another piece of hardware in 1975-76, gaining his third Most Valuable Player award in his best season, regarding points. Clarke duplicated the 89 assists from the previous season and found the net with 30 goals of his own.

In the six succeeding seasons, Clarke's point totals dropped from 90 in 1976-77 to 63 in 1981-82. He put together an 85-point season in 1982-83, the fifth time that the gritty five-foot-10, 185-pound forward participated in all 80 regular season games. His defensive work during the season also earned him the Selke Trophy. One year later, Clarke scored 60 points in his final season.

Fifteen years after every team passed on him in the Amateur Draft, Clarke left the sport having stepped onto the ice for 1144 regular season games, lighting the lamp 358 times and assisting on 1210 others for a lifetime total of 1433 points. He retired as the fourth-greatest assister in NHL history when he walked away from the game in 1984.

The NHL enshrined Clarke into its Hall of Fame in 1987.

LCS: Guide to Hockey

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