The National Hockey League lockout, which canceled the 2004-2005 season, temporarily keeps Noah Clarke – a Los Angeles Kings left wing and La Verne native – from living the dream so many hockey players strive for. Noah currently plays professionally for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League.
Clarke became the first Southern California-born player to play for the Kings. Kids playing hockey in Southern California may be a rarity, but Clarke, now 25, began playing at an early age.
“I started to skate at age five and actually play hockey at age six,” Clarke said.
Clarke soon became attached to a game overshadowed locally by more popular sports such as football, basketball, baseball and soccer.
“He truly just loves playing,” said Donna Clarke, Noah’s mother.
“I used to go to some Kings games and my dad had some hockey sticks around his office from the Kings,” Noah Clarke said. “We had season tickets for a number of years.”
As Noah Clarke grew older, his love for hockey increased as did the sacrifices he and his family had to make.
“My husband really is the one that did all of the sacrificing,” Donna Clarke said. “He would wake up early in the morning and take the kids to the rinks.”
The scarcity of local hockey rinks, players and coaches in the area often made it difficult for Noah Clarke to find time and resources to practice and play games.
“When I was young it was really hard to find ice time so my family would drive a couple hours for a practice,” Noah Clarke said. “As I got older I still could only get on the ice maybe three times a week where guys from Minnesota would skate everyday.”
“We would drive two hours to Arrowhead,” Donna Clarke added.
Despite Noah Clarke’s limited practice time, he continued to excel. He left Southern California before his junior year in high school to attend Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota.
“The main thing was to be able to skate and be on the ice every day,” Donna Clarke said. “That was the number one motivating factor that made the decision in going away his junior year.”
Hockey actually plays a large role in the Clarke family background.
“My grandfather played in Canada for many years,” Noah Clarke said. “My dad played when he was young growing up in western Canada.”
After two years of hockey at St. Mary’s, Clarke returned home for the final three months of his senior year and graduated from Claremont High School.
After high school, Clarke played Junior A hockey for two years in Des Moines, Iowa, before accepting a scholarship to play at Division I hockey at powerhouse Colorado College. The Tigers have been among the top five in college hockey consistently.
During Noah Clarke’s four-year career at Colorado College, he compiled 63 goals and 113 assists for 176 total points. His senior season proved best when he tallied 21 goals and 49 assists in 42 games for the Tigers. He was selected as a First-Team All American and was a Western Collegiate Hockey Association second-team player.
“He still talks with college buddies that he met there,” Donna Clarke said. “Colorado College was a great experience for him.”
After college, Noah Clarke joined the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL for the 2003-2004 season, and in August 2004 he signed a contract to play for the Los Angeles Kings. In his first stint in the NHL, he played in two games and recorded one assist.
The lockout, which officially took effect at the beginning of this season because of labor disputes, has put Noah Clarke’s NHL career on hold.
“As a second-year player I was looking forward to training camp and having the opportunity to play in the NHL,” Noah Clarke said.
Despite reaching his goal of playing professional hockey in the NHL, staying in the league appears to be just as difficult.
“Mental toughness is a huge thing because in the pros you play so many games, at times the season is draining,” Noah Clarke said. “You must focus and harness your energy to compete at a high level every night.”
“I think there is a strong sense of God calling on his life,” Donna Clarke said. “We believe it’s the Lord’s hand at work.”
Donna Clarke is proud of what her son has accomplished up to this point but said she “never even thought of how far he would go because it so beyond what you can think or imagine.”
Noah Clarke said he believes aspiring professional hockey players in Southern California have it a little easier today than he did when he was starting out.
“Now there are more rinks and more hockey-knowledgeable people to help kids along,” Noah Clarke said.
Despite this season’s disappointments, Donna Clarke said hockey on the whole has given her son great opportunities.
“Hockey is more than a game, it’s about the team, the camaraderie and the fans,” Donna Clarke said. “That whole world is who he is.”
For now Noah Clarke remains patient, scoring goals, tallying assists and waiting for his opportunity to barge back onto the scene of the 2005-2006 NHL season with the Kings. Unfortunately, the current situation with the NHL, which has shown little improvement in recent months, may keep Noah Clarke’s plans on hold for a while.
Steven Falls can be reached at email@example.com.
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