Year after year, Emerson Clark and Everett Clark played hockey in their native Ontario as two brothers on two different teams.
Now, nearly 1,000 miles from their original home in Whitby, Ontario, the chance to team up has finally arrived for the Canadian brothers with the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen.
“It’s pretty cool,” Emerson said. “I think the last time we were together was probably mini-sticks in our basement.”
The opportunity to join forces is a new feeling for the duo, a seasoned leader and a rookie just getting used to the professional ranks.
“They’re a tight-knit family,” Icemen coach Jason Christie said. “They’re tight brothers and they do everything together. It’s just that [extra] joy for a lot of kids if they’re able to play together as siblings like that.”
Time and distance kept them on different tracks as they climbed the hockey ladder.
Emerson, three years and a month older, made a quick start in the developmental Ontario Hockey League with the Oshawa Generals at age 16. By the time Everett was ready to enter the OHL, Emerson had already moved on to the ECHL, where he played for Toledo, Greenville and Tulsa before arriving in Jacksonville.
As the club’s third signing, Emerson was always a key piece in Christie’s blueprint, and he opened the year as one of Jacksonville’s two associate captains. But circumstances have forced him into an even bigger leadership role. Captain Garet Hunt has been sidelined for several recent games, and original associate captain Wacey Rabbit only played two games before moving to HC Dukla Jihlava of the Czech Republic.
Emerson is not only leading the team in points with eight goals and 14 assists, playing at left wing on a high-scoring front line alongside Alexandre Goulet and Elgin Pearce, but he’s become a crowd favorite with his all-out style and intense, combative attitude.
“He’s a heart-and-soul guy. Everything’s on his sleeve,” Christie said. “He’s a warrior.”
Emerson produced one of the Icemen’s most memorable moments to date, scoring the team’s first hat trick on Nov. 28 to down Orlando 6-4.
That was the first hat trick for a Jacksonville hockey team since March 30, 2008, when Frank Furdero scored three times for the Jacksonville Barracudas to beat the Twin City Cyclones 7-3 in the Southern Professional Hockey League playoffs.
The leadership role extends to helping his brother adjust to his first year in the pros.
“He’s kind of taking me under his wing, showing me what it takes to play in this league,” Everett said.
That adjustment hasn’t always been easy for Everett, at 21 among the youngest members of an already-young squad. Within his first six weeks, he had compiled a plus/minus figure of minus-16.
Fortunately for him, he had someone to let him know that early struggles after the ECHL jump aren’t unusual.
“It’s going to take some time, like my first year,” Emerson said. “It’s a big step between the OHL and the ECHL, the size of the guys and how strong they are. We’re men up here.”
Size is just one of the factors that Everett, listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, had to surmount.
“The game’s also a little quicker,” Everett said. “You find yourself a bit behind some plays, which in the OHL you would’ve been on top of. So it takes a little adjustment, and gradually I think I’m working my way up to it.”
It’s starting to pay off. His highlight was Nov. 28 against Orlando, when he broke clear in the first period and put away the first short-handed goal in Icemen history.
“It just took me by surprise,” Everett said. “We got a nice bounce and [Tyler] Coulter sent me on a breakaway… I actually wasn’t aware it was the first short-handed goal, so it’s pretty cool.”
There’s also a side benefit for Everett: With an older brother who happens to lead the ECHL with 113 penalty minutes, any opponent pestering him might soon have to face the wrath of big No. 13 flying in off the left wing.
That’s a deterrent.
“He’s not going to be jumping in every time I’m in a scrum, but I think it definitely frightens people,” Everett said.
Like many others in the league, the Clark brothers’ time in the ECHL, and in Jacksonville, may be limited. Emerson has already had a couple of stints with the Chicago Wolves of the second-tier American Hockey League, the next step on the way to the NHL.
And, appropriately enough, he’s got a lesson for his younger brother about moving up in the sport: a lesson that Everett said is the first one Emerson gave him once the two teamed up in Jacksonville.
“Work hard every game,” Everett said. “You don’t know who’s watching.”