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“Heartbeat” of Canada’s national team ready for similar role in Ottawa



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It sounds like being the “heartbeat” of Canada’s national women’s hockey team – and presumably inheriting a similar role with Ottawa’s Professional Women’s Hockey League entry – comes quite easily for Emily Clark.

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Actually, it sounds like it’s just Emily being Emily.

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“She’s somebody who no matter what is going on, in her game or in her world, she’s there for us,” said superstar forward Brianne Jenner, the reigning Olympic MVP, after following her Team Canada teammate to Ottawa as a building block for one of three north-of-the-border franchises in a six-team league that will commence in January. “If she’s in a slump, which rarely ever happens, never happens, she’s still the same teammate to us. She still puts in the same work day after day. She’s just the most consistent teammate and performer.

“At the same time when she’s flying high, like she often is, there’s so much humility to her. There’s no cockiness, nothing like that. She’s Emily. And she brings that work ethic, that care for her teammates, day after day. So I think that’s what I was getting at with the ‘heartbeat of the team’ (comment).

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“There’s so many things that Clarkie brings to the team, and I think we’re just so lucky to have her.”

Clark, a Saskatoon product who turns 28 when the calendar falls on that number next week, joined the national program as the youngest player on a U18 team in a three-game series against the U.S.

She was chosen to play for Team Canada at the 2018 Winer Olympics in PyeongChang, where she helped her side win a silver medal, and then was named to Canada’s 2022 Olympic team, where she won gold with Jenner and a handful of others who she’ll be playing pro with in Ottawa.

After the new team practiced at TD Place for the first time last Friday, Clark was asked what goes into being a team heartbeat.

“I think just being myself, but I think embracing what the team needs, trying to be selfless, embrace any role I’m given,” she said. “Even in terms of something little like how the team wants to play, like executing systems, executing stuff in practice, and just being reliable and consistent … I think.

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“It’s pretty special,” Clark said of the label. “I think so highly of Brianne, so obviously hearing something like that from someone like that, it means a lot. I’ve always looked up to her, and it’s like the ultimate compliment coming from one of the best teammates and leaders I’ve ever played with.”

After four seasons with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, Clark played in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which was established in 2019 with “the vision of establishing a sustainable and viable women’s professional hockey league in North America.”

That it did.

Last season, with Team Harvey’s in the PWHPA, she was a top-line player who finished second in points behind Marie-Philip Poulin, who is considered the best women’s hockey player in the world.

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In the championship game, Clark scored a hat trick and assisted on the game-winning goal.

With the national team, she is pesky forward who is strong in all areas of the ice.

What role will she play in Ottawa?

“I think it will develop,” said Clark. “Right now it’s so early, I’m just kind of trying to be me and embrace that. That’s something as I’ve gotten older as a player, I’m just really trying to define how I want to show up every day as a teammate, a person, a player. I’m more worried about being myself, and I know that’s embraced by the team. Whatever energy I’m able to give off, or ways I’m able to lead, I’m excited about those opportunities too.”

Clark is naturally also excited to be part of the Rivalry Series between Canada and the U.S., which started last week in Arizona and Los Angeles with two games won by the Americans.

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The next two games will be played in Kitchener and Sarnia, on Dec. 14-16, before the series moves to SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon on Feb. 7, then to Regina Feb. 9 and finally to Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn. on Feb. 11.

Just talking about playing one of the games in her hometown makes Clark’s eyes light up.

“I feel like I’ll use the term ‘dream come true’ a lot in the coming season,” she said. “But honestly, I feel so lucky. They played in Saskatoon in 2018 for the Four Nations Cup, and unfortunately I got injured just a couple of weeks before, but being able to play in my hometown … like I don’t think there’s anything better I could write on paper. I’m hoping to be on that roster and be healthy and get to soak something like that in. I haven’t played a game in Saskatoon since I was 16,  let alone with the national team.”

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Clark speaks with similar enthusiasm when discussing the opportunity representing the country’s capital in the start-up of  North America’s first women’s pro hockey league.

For now, she’s says the players are busy learning each other’s nicknames and backgrounds, but she’s also noticed ” an energy about this group, and definitely something special cooking.

“I just can’t wait to watch that grow, day-by-day,” said Clark. “I think we have a really amazing foundation of people, and that’s the most important part.

“It’s super special,” she said of being a groundbreaker for women hockey players. “I don’t think it’s it’s fully sunk in yet, but it’s definitely in (our) conversations. We understand the opportunity and honestly, the privilege that we have to start something like this. I think it’s a mix of taking it day-by-day but also trying to have a bigger vision because we’re in full control now.”

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