Bobby Clarke began to play for his home team, the Flin Flon Bombers, when he was eight. Playing for the Bombers in the 1967-68 season, Clarke racked up 168 points (51 goals plus 117 assists). That was the best performance in the league. By all accounts, Bobby should have been first in the draft, but there were rumours in the NHL that Clarke was a diabetic and most probably wouldn’t be able to play in the top league because of that.
When the following season began and NHL scouts began to visit Flin Flon, Ginnell showed them the verdict from the Mayo Clinic. On ice, Clarke hardly looked like a man with a serious affliction. He totaled 137 points with 51 goals and 86 assists and was again at the top of the league. Clarke also demonstrated superior leadership skills, which are highly valued in the NHL.
The 1969 draft was ample evidence that there were those in the league who believed in Clarke. Bobby was selected 17th by the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. Sam Pollock, manager of the Montreal Canadiens, who were 1969 Stanley Cup winners, immediately offered a deal that the Flyers management could hardly refuse. But Philadelphia turned it down. Next in line was Detroit Red Wings chief scout Jimmy Skinner, who offered two veterans for the 20-year-old diabetic. But the Flyers made it clear that Clarke wasn’t up for sale.
Clarke didn’t miss a single game in his first NHL season. At the same time, Clarke didn’t put on any spectacular performances either, with 15 goals and 31 assists for a total of 46 points.
The following season, Clarke’s 27 goals and 36 assists helped Philadelphia to capture the number three slot in their division, but in the first round of the playoffs the Phillies were KO’d by the Chicago Black Hawks 4-0.
By the third season, everyone had forgotten about Clarke’s diabetes. Not only did Clarke chalk up the highest number of points in the club’s history – 35 goals plus 46 assists for a total of 81 points – he became the uncontested leader of the team, and that at the age of 22. At the end of the season, he was awarded the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance and dedication – a first for the Philadelphia team.
Bobby Clarke could have become a national hero. The merits he accumulated during his career were impressive. As a player, the former Philadelphia captain led his club to Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and 1975. He also captured numerous individual awards, including the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in 1973, 1975 and 1976, and made the All-Star Team four times. But Clarke’s behavior on ice was far from heroic. Under the captaincy of Clarke, Philadelphia played a very aggressive game of hockey.
He had a famous, captivating smile – with about a dozen missing teeth. That is how Bobby Clarke will be remembered by those who saw him on ice. One of the best checkers in the entire history of the league, he was also a ruffian and a warrior. And a victor. The hockey player who gave the northern town of Flin Flon worldwide renown is now the president and general manager of the Flyers.
Courtesy of Hockey Legends Net.
Bobby Clarke tribute video.