Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wendel Moment #6 - The Final Ovation

On November 22, Wendel Clark's #17 will be raised to the rafters as the team honours its former captain and arguably the most popular player in franchise history.

In the lead up to that night, Down Goes Brown will feature a countdown of Wendel's Top 17 Greatest Moments.

In January of 2000, Wendel Clark was released by the Blackhawks after an ineffective 13-game stint. He was immediately signed as a free agent by the Maple Leafs, a young and talented team looking for a little veteran guidance.

This wasn't the wild young Wendel on the 1980s, mullet flowing in the breeze as he pummeled yet another Norris rival into the ice. It wasn't even the savvy veteran of the 90s, with the bald spot and permanent playoff beard. This was the 2000 version of Wendel -- a proud veteran, but clearly on his last legs.

His third stint with the Leafs wasn't especially memorable. He played 20 regular season games, managing only four points and one lackluster scrap with Brad Isbister. He was a healthy scratch some nights, an unhealthy one many others. When the playoffs began, there was no spot in the lineup for Wendel Clark.

That changed late in the first round series against the Senators. Looking for an emotional lift with the series tied, Pat Quinn inserted Clark into the lineup for game five. The Leafs won in overtime, then wrapped up the series in game six with Wendel scoring the final goal.

The Leafs opened the second round at home against the Devils, and Clark found himself on the third line with Darcy Tucker and Dmitri Khristich. The line would be the Leafs' best on the night, with Clark and Tucker wreaking havoc at both ends of the ice. The line scored early in the third when Clark set up Tucker for what would hold up as the eventual winner.

Late in the third, Clark picked up the puck in his own zone and started out on an end-to-end rush. He barreled through the neutral zone, steamed over the blueline and let loose one of his patented laser beam wrist shots. The shot beat Martin Brodeur clean -- but clanged off the iron. Clark headed to the bench, head down, cursing himself for missing out on a key scoring chance.

And then a funny thing happened.

With the game paused for a television time out, the crowd buzz didn't die off. It got louder. Slowly but surely, the ACC came to life. As the center ice scoreboard showed a closeup of Clark on the bench, people started standing up. The suits in the platinums, the real fans in the upper level, old-timers who'd seen every Clark game, kids who were seeing their very first -- everyone.

The standing ovation lasted through the commercial break, and when they dropped the puck for the ensuing face-off the fans ignored it and kept on cheering. There was no PA announcer begging for noise, no instructions on the scoreboard -- just one of those spontaneous moments that happens all too rarely in pro sports.

The ovation wasn't about the end-to-end rush or hitting the post or even an assist on the game winner. It wasn't about the Devils or game one or the 2000 season.

It was about 19,500 fans realizing that they had just seen something special, probably for the last time.

It was about 19,500 fans saying "thanks".

Clark went on to play three more games in the series before being sidelines with a back injury. The Leafs lost the series, and Clark retired in June.

There weren't many memorable moments in Clark's final stint with the Leafs. But one makes our list -- the night that Leaf fans took one final opportunity to pay tribute to their favorite player.


  1. When I read about this in the paper the next day I had tears in my eyes.

    Fantastic summary. You captured the essence and significance of the moment perfectly.

  2. Clark has always been my all-time favorite Leaf. If some of the players now-a-days played with half the heart they would be stars in this league. I miss having a REAL heart and soul guy on our team.

  3. I'm 19 years old. I was at this game, my first Leafs playoff game just 10 years old. When I saw you starting this list I KNEW this had to be one of the moments.

    GREAT list man.

  4. I remember this moment. I was watching the game at home and even I got up and started clapping. It was a beautiful thing. You have captured it poignantly. Wonderful post.

  5. What's this watery discharge????