A star junior hockey defenceman with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, Clark was converted to forward after he was selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft. His professional career lasted from 1985 until 2000, during which time he played for the Maple Leafs (during three separate stretches), Quebec Nordiques, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings, and Chicago Blackhawks.
Clark was known for his emotional, physical play, combined with scoring prowess. After his rookie season, he was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and finished third in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy. The serious back injury that Clark suffered during a game against the Chicago Blackhawks in 1987, when he was cross-checked into the crossbar of his own goal, hindered his progress as an elite NHL player. Nonetheless, he was a crowd favourite at Maple Leaf Gardens and won a place in the hearts of Leaf fans as he provided a spark during the latter part of the Harold Ballard era, considered the darkest period in the storied franchise's history. He was named captain of the team for the 1991-92 season.
During the 1992-93 season, Clark's second year captaining the team, the Leafs set team records in wins (44) and points (99) and also made the playoffs for the first time in three years. The Leafs had a memorable run to the Campbell Conference Finals, but after leading the best-of-seven series three games to two, they lost to the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings, who were coached by Clark's cousin, Barry Melrose. Two career defining moments happened in this series for Clark: his defense of Dougie Gilmour, resulting in a bruised and battered Marty McSorely, and his hat-trick during the game 7 final.
"That series was probably the most excitement I saw around here," proclaimed Clark, who had 20 points (10 goals and 10 assists) in his 21 games during the '93 playoffs. "It was the furthest the Leafs had advanced in a long time, the team was coming together at the right time and everybody was doing their jobs."
While Clark was known for grit and physical play (amassing 1,690 career penalty minutes), frequent injuries meant that he never played a full 82-game season. Nonetheless, he did manage an impressive 46 goals for the Leafs during the 1993-94 season, playing on a line with Dave Andreychuk and Doug Gilmour. In the playoffs, the Leafs made a second consecutive trip to the Conference Finals, but fell 4–1 to the Vancouver Canucks, who were coached by future Leafs coach Pat Quinn.
Early in his career, Clark fought all the league's toughest players, quickly gaining a reputation as a feared pugilist. Despite his size, Clark more than held his own against much larger opponents, showing a ferocity seldom matched throughout the league. The list of opponents is like a who's who of league tough-guys: Craig Berube,Bob Probert,Cam Neely,Rick Tocchet,Mark Tinordi,Garth Butcher,Marty McSorely,Mike Peluso,John Kordic, and of course the not so epic fight with retreating Denis Savard.
Due to age, reputation and injuries, Clark's fights became less frequent during latter part of his career. But despite the numerous injuries, Clark's ability to change a game with a single bodycheck continued right up to his eventually retirement.
In June 1994, with his value at an all-time high, Clark was traded to the Quebec Nordiques in a multi-player deal which notably involved a young Mats Sundin. He was succeeded as Maple Leafs captain by Gilmour. Clark played the lockout-shortened 1994–95 NHL season in Quebec.
After the Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche, Clark became embroiled in a contract dispute with the team. As a result, shortly before the beginning of the 1995-96 campaign, he was sent to the New York Islanders in a three-way trade that brought Claude Lemieux to Colorado and Steve Thomas to the New Jersey Devils. Clark played 58 games with the Islanders, but finished the season back in Toronto.
In 1998 Clark signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but was dealt at the trade deadline to the Detroit Red Wings, where he finished the 1998-99 season. Clark signed with the Chicago Blackhawks later in 1999, but only appeared in 13 games with the team.
Upon returning to the Leafs in 2000, after being benched by the Blackhawks, Clark was not particularly effective for the remainder of the regular season, but he found his form for the Leafs' playoff run. The love that Leaf fans had for their former captain could be seen when they gave a 1:30 standing ovation after Clark barreled into the New Jersey zone and hit the post in Game 1. During Game 4, Clark assisted on the game-winning goal that gave the Leafs a 2–1 victory and tied the series with the Devils.
Wendel is now employed by the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club as a community ambassador and public relations. he can be seen at virtually all Leaf home games, usually with his wife Denise and children. The Toronto Maple Leafs will honour the former captain by raising his number legendary number 17 to the rafters November 22, 2008 at the Air Canada Centre. He owns a restaurant, Wendel Clark's Classic Grill and Sports Lounge, in Vaughan, Ontario, and resides in King City.
Along with onetime Leafs teammate Mike Gartner, neither player won the Stanley Cup, played in the Cup finals, won an NHL award, or was named to a postseason All-Star Team.
Clark formed the "Hound Line" with Gary Leeman and Russ Courtnall while helping the Leafs come within a game of the semi-finals. Hucksters outside Maple Leaf Gardens sold small towels with three bulldogs printed on them with the numbers 9 (Courtnall), 11(Leeman) and 17 (Clark)as Hound Line souvenirs.
While being considered a possibility for Rookie of the year, Leaf fans at Maple Leaf Gardens (and radio listeners as well) would often hear a novelty song over the P.A. system about why Clark should win called "Clark For The Calder"
Clark's cousin is ESPN NHL analyst Barry Melrose. Clark was captain of the Leafs and Melrose was the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, when their teams faced off in the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals. Another cousin of Clark's is Joe Kocur, also a former NHL player.
Clark was the subject of a song by Etobicoke, ON band Rheostatics: "The Ballad of Wendel Clark, Parts 1 and 2". The lyrics, dating back to 1988, celebrate Clark's aggressive style of play and power.
During the 1990s when Quebec's place within Canadian confederation was unsure, many automobiles began sporting "My Canada Includes Quebec" bumperstickers. After being traded away from Toronto at around this time, cars in Toronto began sporting "My Canada Includes Wendel" bumperstickers.
He converted a barn on his farm north of Toronto into a rink with the help of former NHL player Dave Gagner, whose company builds and installs artificial rinks.
|1985–86||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||66||34||11||45||227||10||5||1||6||47|
|1986–87||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||80||37||23||60||271||13||6||5||11||38|
|1987–88||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||28||12||11||23||80||--||--||--||--||--|
|1988–89||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||15||7||4||11||66||--||--||--||--||--|
|1989–90||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||38||18||8||26||116||5||1||1||2||19|
|1990–91||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||63||18||16||34||152||--||--||--||--||--|
|1991–92||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||43||19||21||40||123||--||--||--||--||--|
|1992–93||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||66||17||22||39||193||21||10||10||20||51|
|1993–94||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||64||46||30||76||115||18||9||7||16||24|
|1996–97||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||65||30||19||49||75||--||--||--||--||--|
|1997–98||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||47||12||7||19||80||--||--||--||--||--|
Wendel Clark Wendel Clark Opens New Restaurant