Inside the OHL: Brandt Clarke (with a C) leads the Colts and breaks the ice with the Kings

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Brandt Clarke huddled with teammates during practice this past week, awaiting the words of Barrie Colts head coach Marty Williamson.

He didn’t talk about strategy. Or the week’s games. Or what needed to be better.

Williamson went straight into the pillars of being a successful captain — then announced that Clarke had earned the C. There were hugs, high-fives, fist bumps and cheers all around.

“It’s one of the greatest accomplishments of my life,” Clarke said. “I’m truly honoured and can’t wait to lead this team to hopefully a successful season.”

The awarding of the captaincy came after a summer he’ll never forget. In July, surrounded by friends and family, he was drafted eighth overall by the Los Angeles Kings.

The speedy, puck-moving defenceman had impressed scouts leaguewide in two years as a junior. Before the pandemic shut down the 2019-20 OHL season, Clarke recorded six goals and 32 assists in 57 games. With the following season in question — never played in the end — he went to Europe and skated for HC Nove Zamky, a pro team in Slovakia. In 26 games there, he picked up five goals, 10 assists and valuable experience.

“With the larger ice surface, I had to learn positioning more,” Clarke said. “You couldn’t chase around too much. I learned a lot over there. But being back in Barrie, that’s what I always wanted to do.”

When the Kings drafted Clarke, the 18-year-old said he felt an immediate connection. And when L.A. was in Toronto to face the Maple Leafs on Nov. 8, several scouts and senior executives also watched Clarke’s Colts play the Hamilton Bulldogs. The prospect got to spend some time with Kings players and brass, and said two moments stood out.

“Anze (Kopitar) introduced himself, put his arm around me and said, ‘You can be with us for the day,’” Clarke said of the veteran centre.

He also had dinner with Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille, the Kings’ president.

Los Angeles Kings draft pick Brandt Clarke was recently named the 22nd captain in Barrie Colts history.

“He’s an NHL legend,” said Clarke. “He’s funny — makes jokes all the time — and was comfortable around me chatting about hockey. It was a cool moment.

“I’m looking forward to contributing to the Kings when that time comes.”

Clarke’s OHL season started late after a bout of mononucleosis. The Colts have improved since his return, including a comeback win over the Mississauga Steelheads on Oct. 29 capped by Clarke’s goal in overtime.

The best players raise the level of the entire team.

“We think Brandt can be the best defenceman in the league,” Williamson said. “We want to round his game so he can be extremely valuable, that guy who I can play in the final minutes and trust in all situations.”

Clarke is the 22nd captain in Colts history, a rich legacy that he plans to live up to.

“There’s a lot of special players who have put on that jersey. We haven’t won a championship since 2000. I believe we have the guys to do it. I think I can lead the boys to a championship this year.”

Trade watch: After a month with none, there were five deals in the OHL over a three-day span. It started with the Kitchener Rangers trading forward Brenden Anderson to the Hamilton Bulldogs for a 10th-round draft pick in 2022, and ended with Hamilton sending forward Liam Van Loon to the Niagara IceDogs for an eighth-rounder in 2024. One GM said much of the trade talk has involved overagers. The Sarnia Sting made a pair of moves involving defencemen: shipping Cameron Supryka to the Guelph Storm and adding Ethan Ritchie from the Kingston Frontenacs, with late draft picks going the other way in both cases. The Storm were looking for an overage player to complement a young team and Supryka fits that role, while the Sting had four overagers (one over the limit) and were motivated to make a move.

Prospect watch: The CHL/NHL top prospects game, featuring projected No. 1 NHL draft pick Shane Wright of the Kingston Frontenacs, will be played Feb. 2 at Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. The home of the Rangers will host the junior showcase for the third time, but first since 2003. The Aud’s capacity is 7,131.

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