AHL Hall of Famer Clark overcame odds, tragedy

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com Features Writer

Opportunity beckoned Gordie Clark and his family.

It was the 1950’s in post-war Europe, and the industrial landscape had struggled to recover. For a young family in Scotland like the Clarks, maybe there might be something better out there.

They found that opportunity in Canada, moving to New Brunswick when Clark was three years old.

“They all came to Canada, a young country, looking for a new life,” Clark said.

It was a decision that started a path leading Clark to the AHL, the Boston Bruins of the 1970’s, and now the AHL Hall of Fame. The start of that journey took some time, however. Baseball and soccer were his sports of choice, and he represented Canada in baseball at the 1971 Pan American Games. But once his hockey journey started, it moved quickly.

Clark, who did grow up skating, had made his way into minor hockey by age 14. By the fall of 1970, he was on the campus of the University of New Hampshire after long-time head coach Charlie Holt discovered Clark on a recruiting trip and offered him a last-minute scholarship.

“I had nobody coming after me,” Clark said, thinking back. “I was going to work for a year and raise some money to go to college and keep playing college hockey somewhere in New Brunswick. And then it just took off.”

It sure did. By the time he was 20 years old, he was a seventh-round pick of the Boston Bruins. Clark said he didn’t even know when the draft was happening, learning of the pick from his local newspaper.

He turned pro in 1974 after having become UNH’s first two-time hockey All-American, going to training camp with the powerhouse Bruins before joining the Rochester Americans. On Jan. 9, 1975, he was in the Boston lineup against Vancouver for his NHL debut, and at one point found himself moved up to the first line to skate alongside Phil Esposito.

Clark finished his rookie season in Rochester with 64 points (22 goals, 42 assists) in 65 games, then recorded three consecutive seasons with 30 or more goals and twice earned nods as a Second Team AHL All-Star. After four seasons in Rochester, though, a new opportunity arose with the Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association.

But in the summer of 1978, tragedy hit. Seven family members, including his parents Bobby and Margaret, died in a house fire in Saint John, N.B.

“I was contemplating whether I really wanted to even play anymore,” Clark said.

Clark would split most of the 1978-79 between Cincinnati and the AHL’s Springfield Indians. With playing time difficult to find with the WHA club, Stingers head coach Floyd Smith arranged for a deal with the Maine Mariners, just an hour away from Clark’s offseason home in Portsmouth, N.H.

“He was a real gentleman about the whole thing,” Clark said of Smith. “He gave me a chance. I ended up going into that organization with character guys, the talent they had, and had four great years with them.”

Clark helped lead the team to a Calder Cup title in 1979 – the Mariners’ second in a row – with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 10 games. Maine became a hockey home for Clark and his wife, Carol, and their growing family. He twice was a First Team AHL All-Star with the Mariners; his 47 goals topped the AHL in 1979-80, and he established career bests with 50 goals and 101 points in 1981-82. After one season in Germany, Clark made another late-season return to the Mariners as they reached the 1983 Calder Cup Finals.

Clark retired that summer having compiled 267 goals and 332 assists for 599 points in 540 AHL games, along with one assist in eight NHL games with Boston. He stayed in hockey, coaching at the University of Southern Maine and managing a new ice rink in Portland. And when the Bruins established a new AHL affiliation with the Mariners in 1987, Clark returned to the club as an assistant coach and spent two seasons there before moving on to become an assistant in Boston.

“It ended up giving me a great experience,” Clark said of battling to reach the NHL as a player. “I realized what I didn’t have to make it, and I could bring that along to some of the newer kids, lead them, and work them on the ice to give them the best chance. That’s what your job was as an AHL coach.”

With his family firmly established in New England, Clark opted to move into the scouting world for the Bruins in 1992.

“I was interested in looking into why [prospects] weren’t making it,” Clark said. By 1996, he had moved on to the New York Islanders, where he served as an assistant coach and assistant general manager among other roles. Then came his longest organizational stint in which he spent 20 seasons with the New York Rangers in scouting and player personnel positions. In 2022, he joined the Montreal Canadiens to reunite as a scout with former Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton.

But go back to 1974, when Clark’s time in the AHL began. By his third pro season, 1976-77, the AHL had found itself reduced to six teams. The road trips were grueling, the schedule demanding, and the league was fighting to survive. Now, Clark will enter the American Hockey League Hall of Fame with the circuit now at a record 32 teams and operating as the NHL’s top developmental league.

As a player, coach, scout and executive, Clark has seen the league’s evolution across nearly 50 years.

“I’m just blown away by it.”