It shouldn’t be overly surprising that Michael Clarke is among the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s scoring leaders. What is surprising is that Clarke has bounced around Western Canada for five years before finally finding a home to finish his junior career with the Humboldt Broncos.
Acquired from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Calgary Canucks in June for a player development fee, Clarke has played a big role in helping the Humboldt franchise heal from last spring’s tragedy that saw 10 players lose their lives in a horrific bus crash.
The 5-foot-11, 201-pound centre from Calgary has stepped in to lead the team in scoring with 17 goals and 25 assists through 34 games and with that Humboldt will enter the Christmas break among the top five teams in the league.
After one season of Midget AAA hockey, where Clarke averaged a point per game with the SEAC Tigers, Clarke began his whirlwind Junior “A” career as a 16-year-old with his hometown Canucks. Clarke got into 49 games that year and managed to score 12 goals and set up seven others.
He began the next season with Calgary, but after 17 games, in which he collected 10 points, he was dealt to the Grand Prairie Storm where he tallied another 12 goals and seven assists in 39 contests.
In 2016-17, as an 18-year-old, Clarke really blossomed as he recorded 31 goals and 31 assists in 60 games with the Storm, but even that production didn’t guarantee him a long-term future with Grand Prairie as he was dealt to the British Columbia Hockey League’s Chilliwack Bruins after just five games last season. Then, just over two weeks after that move, he returned to the Canucks where he finished the season with 45 points in 47 games. In total, Clarke had 50 points in 56 games between the three clubs.
Clarke should easily surpass his personal bests in goals, assists and points this season, but more importantly he will continue to be a valuable member of a squad and community that continues to rebuild itself following last spring’s tragedy. In addition to his scoring prowess, Clarke brings some grit to the team as his 54 minutes in penalties will attest to and he is also a part of the leadership group as he joins the only two returning players – Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter – as alternate captains.
In a four-game audition last year, the Battlefords North Stars got a glimpse of what Ryan Gil could bring to the team.
The 5-foot-9, 211-pound winger from Huntington Beach, Ca, had two goals and two assists while with the North Stars in October, 2017, but for whatever reason the then 19-year-old spent the remainder of the campaign playing with a series of teams in Rochester, Topeka and Long Beach.
Now 20 years old, and in his final season of junior eligibility, Gil has returned to the Battlefords and through 33 games he has notched 13 goals and set up 15 others. Those numbers put him among the team leaders in all offensive categories.
His production in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League is consistent with what he has done in his numerous previous stops. As an 18-year-old with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, Gil registered nine goals and 30 assists in 30 games and last spring in Long Beach, after averaging a point per game in 12 regular-season contests, he was at another level altogether as he had 21 points in just nine playoff tilts.
In addition to playing in numerous centres last year, Gil has also gone right across the United States to play the game as he spent his 17-year-old season with the Connecticut Wolf Pack, an elite hockey program in the northeast. In 64 games that year, with teams competing in three different leagues, Gil produced 10 goals and 24 assists.
As the North Stars prepare for the Christmas break Gil is riding a five-game point streak and with that has helped the Battlefords move to within striking distance of first place in the Global Ag Risk Solutions Division and top spot overall. His continued contributions will certainly make the North Stars a threat for both titles in the second half of the season.