by Matt Trust | AHL On The Beat
It’s an early season Canadian road swing for the Hershey Bears: the only portion in a 76-game schedule the Chocolate and White would make stops in Toronto, Belleville and Laval north of the border.
Meanwhile, an off-day in Toronto for Hershey fell parallel with the city’s beloved Maple Leafs hosting the Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank Arena.
Another season for the NHL original-six franchise filled with optimism by its fans, who storm the concourse sporting the jerseys of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and company.
Those who embrace the organization’s history were often seen representing a blue sweater with the name “Clark” embroidered on the back, sitting above number 17. An icon to Leafs fans, Wendel Clark spent parts of 13 seasons representing Toronto from 1985 to 2000, and captained for three seasons.
Back at home base for the Bears, Wendel’s son Kody Clark rehabs an injury sustained during the Washington Capitals Rookie Showcase in September.
Accompanying Clark, Washington’s 47th overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, is Riley Sutter. Selected in the following round (93rd overall) by the Capitals, Sutter also rehabs his own respective injury sustained as the same rookie showcase in Nashville.
Suddenly, two 20-year-olds drafted one round apart, both with prolific hockey families, begin a new journey together.
Riley Sutter’s father Ron currently serves as a development coach with the Calgary Flames and was formerly the director of player development. Previously, Ron captained the Philadelphia Flyers, served as an alternate for the St. Louis Blues and concluded his career with the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames.
With a family tree branched by hockey sticks, both Clark and Sutter are poised to write the next chapter for their respective families.
But before stepping back onto the ice, the road to recovery for Clark and Sutter was well underway. In the eyes of Bears head coach Spencer Carbery, two men housing the injuries simultaneously helped ease the possibility of negativity.
“I think it’s most beneficial away from the rink,” said Carbery. “Sometimes for players that are hurt, it’s a lonely situation. You’re part of the team, you’re at the rink, but you’re sort of on your own program. That can be an isolated feeling at the rink. Then not going on the road trips, not playing, it can wear on you mentally. Any time you can have someone else that’s going through that situation with you, it gets you away from thinking about it. You now have someone that can help you get away from the game mentally and all the negativity with being hurt.”
From Clark’s perspective, it was indeed a mental battle recovering from an injury stalling his professional debut.
“It was tough,” said Clark. “You work so hard all summer. Getting injured second game of the summer and not playing for three months, it sort of wipes out months of training. I think it was more mental during the back half of it. It was wearing on me mentally coming to the rink every day and seeing the guys go out on the rink, and not being able to go out myself. It was tough for sure.”
With Sutter also rehabbing an injury delaying his professional debut, a support group was created.
“Both of us getting injured in Nashville was really unfortunate, but at the same time having someone to go through it with here was nice. Days that the guys were on the road, we would come in together so that really helped us out from the mental side and staying positive,” said Clark.
“When you are by yourself as a first year pro and having to go through and injury is tough. But to have someone there with you to go through it makes it a lot easier,” Sutter added.
Riley Sutter was cleared from injury, added officially to Hershey’s roster, and made his professional debut on Nov. 15 against the Charlotte Checkers. Kody Clark followed suit and made his professional debut on Nov. 24 at Providence.
With the injuries now overcome, Clark and Sutter now turn their full attentions on improving their game, and raising their stock in the Capitals organization. When describing what each prospect brings to the table, Carbery used the words “defined and responsible” to describe the centerman Sutter.
“He knows he’s a third- (or) fourth-line, responsible, intelligent player that will win a ton of face-offs,” said Carbery.
For Clark, the talented winger is moreso still searching for his “niche.”
“I think with Clark it’s more undefined. He has good speed, good hands, and a nice release. With him it’s more to be determined on his niche or what his ceiling is at the pro level,” said Carbery.
It was a quick release which awarded Clark his first professional goal on Dec. 27 at Utica. In the first period, a shot from teammate Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was blocked and ricocheted across to Clark, who beat his former junior teammate Michael DiPietro.
Life in the American Hockey League is often described as a transition. The human element away from the rink often corresponds to the on-ice play.
“Both are tremendous young men,” said Carbery. “You can tell they are quality people first and foremost. Very coachable, hardworking kids. Clark is always up and talking, and then Sutter is more quiet, business-like. It’s a real interesting difference between the two.”
Now currently healthy and in Hershey’s lineup night in and night out, both men continue their mission: a mission to reach the National Hockey League, be prideful in themselves, the family name and where they came from.