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Walking the line.

Halifax Mooseheads 17-year-old defenseman Garrett Clarke plays on the edge. He’s gritty, he hits, he digs hard and he’s a pit bull around his own net. Generally, a real annoyance to play against.

The only problem — he consistently teeters over the edge.

As effective as his in-your-face style can be at drawing penalties and creating some jump for his team, he  also takes unnecessary and untimely penalties himself. The last thing a not-so-talented team needs… is penalty kills (see: Toronto Maple Leafs).

This means Clarke has found himself in the Cam Russell dog house a few times this season.

“I’ll admit I’ve got stupid penalties this year,” said Clarke while sitting out as a scratch on the team’s Rimouski roadtrip a few weeks ago.

“Cam’s not really disappointed in the way I’m playing, it’s just those stupid penalties. I’m hearing it from him and my agent.”

There’s a couple recent examples that come to mind. February 5 game against the Saint John Sea Dogs. The basement Halifax Mooseheads are leading the nation-leading Saint John Sea Dogs by a goal in the third period.

Garrett Clarke takes a penalty with 1:47 to go, opening the door for a Michael Kirkpatrick goal with 42 seconds left.

You could argue the Sea Dogs would’ve scored anyway, with all their skill and firepower, but trying to kill off one of the more deadly powerplays can’t help your chances at holding onto a lead. And once Kirkpatrick tied it up, you knew the Moose really had no chance at winning.

The next game he found himself riding the pine in the third period in a win over Cape Breton and the game after that he was watching from the press box.

Fast forward to February 19, the Mooseheads are holding on to a 4-4 tie after blowing a 3-0 lead on the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

Garrett Clarke takes a kneeing penalty in the offensive zone at the 12:13 mark. Not that a kneeing penalty is ever necessary, but a kneeing penalty in the offensive zone in a tie game is even less so. I’m sure the veins in coach Cam Russell’s neck were about to burst. Of course you can guess how the story went, the Screaming Eagles scored on the ensuing five minute powerplay and win the game.

To make matters worse, the five-minute kneeing major and game misconduct came with an automatic one-game suspension — at a time when the Mooseheads were already smarting with several injuries. Pascal Amyot out with an injury, seeing his team short-manned tried to come back prematurely and potentially made his injury worse.

“I know what I gotta do, I just got to keep playing the way I’m playing. Play gritty stay below that fine line. I just got to go out there and stay cool,” says Clarke.

“It’s tough for me, you get in the heat of the moment you’re just trying to play hard and gritty and when I make those stupid penalties I know it hurts the team and it hurts me to see the team hurt like that.”
Now forget incidents like the above and remember the Garrett Clarke who has scored some timely goals, drawn some timely penalties, and given his team that spark with a big open-ice hit. That’s the Garrett Clarke the Halifax Mooseheads need, and Garrett Clarke knows that’s the Garrett Clarke the team needs. And that’s the Garrett Clarke I hope shows up for training camp in August. 

Jennifer Casey was born and raised in Halifax. She loves all sports but tries to stick to writing about hockey for sanity purposes. You can follow her on twitter @jenncaseyhfx

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