On movie sets in Hollywood, there is a common phrase of ‘Hurry up and wait.’
For 19-year-old rookie defenseman Brandt Clarke, there was plenty of waiting over the past few weeks. After making his NHL debut on October 13 vs. Seattle, he went on to play in the next seven consecutive games. LA coach Todd McLellan gave him the night off against Toronto and St. Louis, then he was right back in against Dallas on November 1.
And that was it.
While waiting on the sidelines, he missed four straight Kings games; all the while, patiently biding his time.
Prior to last Saturday’s home game against Detroit, clarity was provided. The wait was about to be over, now it was time to hurry up and get ready.
“Before the game, Rob [Blake] called me and kind of told me,” Clarke explained, referring to his assignment to the AHL for a two-week conditioning assignemnt. “I didn’t even really know about this; that this was a possibility. He kind of just filled me in on how this works. And I said, ‘That’s awesome!’ I’m looking forward to playing with these guys. I have a lot of friends here and everyone was so welcoming the minute I walked in the door. I made so many friends with them throughout training camp, rookie camp, all that stuff. So it’s fun to be down here. It’s fun to see these guys – a great group of people, great group of players, and I’m fortunate that I can just be in the lineup and be a contributor.”
Sunday afternoon in Ontario, Clarke made his AHL debut. According to coach Marco Sturm, the opening 40 minutes may have been a bit of a feeling out process for one of the Kings top prospects, but it didn’t take him long to earn the coach’s trust. During the final five minutes, with the Reign trailing, it seemed like he never came off the ice.
“I was feeling that too,” he said through his typical smile. “We were pressing for a goal. I don’t know who was on the ice. I think all six of us were on the ice. We kind of played that whole session there. We kept generating, so I think the coaches just kept having trust in us. I think that’s why we were out there for so long.”
Finding comfort with his new teammates came rather easy too, especially considering many of them were with Clarke and the Kings at September’s NHL Rookie Faceoff tournament in San Jose.
“There weren’t too many, ‘Hi, nice to meet you’ [comments] or anything like that,” he noted about his pregame arrival on Sunday. “I kind of knew everyone, kind of knew everyone’s game. Everyone kind of knew my game. It’s worked out pretty well.”
On the ice, things appeared to be equally familiar – especially considering the Kings and Reign have been using the same system at both the NHL and AHL levels for many years now.
“The first thing Marco told me was, ‘Everything you think out there, everything Todd has told you and the places to be, that’s where we want you on the ice [here] too.’ It’s kind of seamless. I just knew where to be, knew where he wanted me on neutral zone breakouts, where he wanted the puck to go when we were breaking the puck out. So, it was pretty easy for me to just pop in and everyone kind of knew where to be,” added Clarke.
Even after one game, he’s also already picked up on a few differences.
“I feel like in the NHL, there’s a lot of speed, a lot of guys trying to take you on; skill-wise, they try to go through you,” he remarked. “Here, it’s more force it to the outside, just put their weight up against you and drive to the net. They do that in the NHL too, but I think there are just more skilled guys up there and they try to expose you. Down here, they know that sometimes brute strength is just the way to go. I think that’s the kind of the biggest change between the two levels I’ve seen so far.”
After practicing with the Reign this week, Clarke will get his second taste of AHL action with a pair of home-and-home games vs. the Henderson Silver Knights. However, looking back to his initial foray into AHL action against San Diego, he admitted to getting his juices flowing again when he took part in arguably one of the league’s best rivalries.
“I wasn’t too familiar with too many guys on the other team,” Clarke began. “But you could tell it was a rivalry out there. Every time we seemed to shoot, everyone was crowded around the net and was swinging. It kind of gets you into the game too. That gets me excited that we’re battling. Everyone was too; no one was stepping down from the challenge. That was kind of cool that it was such a big battle right off the bat for me. It’s kind of good that’s how I got back into game shape.”
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