Clarke’s first NHL goal makes history for Kings

(AP) — Noah Clarke became the first native Southern Californian to score a goal for the Los Angeles Kings. The assists were credited to Dustin Brown and Jaroslav Modry, but the primary credit should go to Wayne Gretzky and the Anaheim Ducks.

Mathieu Garon recorded his first victory in more than two months on Monday night in a 5-1 victory that extended the Edmonton Oilers’ losing streak to eight games.

Outside the Kings’ dressing room was the man who signed Clarke to his first NHL contract.

"I think it’s just a matter of time when we’re going to see a lot of California-born players in the National Hockey League," said former Kings general manager Dave Taylor, now the team’s director of amateur development. "I’ve been watching a lot of amateur games, junior games and college games this year, and it seems like every team’s got a kid from Southern California."

Clarke, from La Verne, was the first Southern California-born player in the Kings’ 40-year history. Left wing Gabe Gauthier, called up Saturday from the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs, is the second. He was born in Torrance.

There have been 19 Southern Californians in the NHL.

"I think it’s the Gretzky effect," Taylor said. "It started when Wayne came here in the late 1980s. I mean, if you look at the number of rinks that we had then compared to today, I’d say we went from a handful of rinks to maybe 25 in the greater L.A. area. So that just means there’s a lot more kids playing."

Clarke opened the scoring in his 15th NHL game and fourth since getting recalled from the AHL. The 27-year-old left wing used defenseman Danny Syvret as a screen and beat Jussi Markkanen to the glove side with a wrist shot from the middle of the left circle at 2:05.

Clarke understands that he is one of a select few and realizes what odds he’s overcome to get to the NHL.

"I remember going to pee wee and bantam tournaments and people kind of sneered and said, ‘Aw, California kids can’t play hockey.’ It’s still not a hotbed, but I think you see more and more California kids coming up now," Clarke said.

"When the Mighty Ducks started out, all these rinks started popping up in Orange County. So it just led to more ice time for California kids to play."