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Clark's gritty style makes him easy choice as captain

Wednesday, 01.14.2009 / 9:00 AM / Captains, Driven by Bridgestone

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Chris Clark can accept the fact he's on call seven days a week as captain of the Washington Capitals.

It's one reason Caps General Manager George McPhee asked Clark to become the 13th captain in franchise history in September 2006. He knew Clark's play epitomized what the Capitals were all about -- tough, skilled and a willingness to battle for teammates.

"Leadership is not a sometime thing or a come-and go-thing," McPhee said. "It's an all-the-time thing. Chris Clark has all-the-time leadership qualities. He is a leader in the mold of one of our all-time favorites, Dale Hunter; a quiet man off the ice, a cantankerous, ultra-competitive player on the ice."

Hunter retired after 19 seasons as the first and only player in NHL history to collect 300 goals, 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes. In 11-plus seasons with the Caps, Hunter had 181 goals and 1,853 penalty minutes.

Despite missing 64 regular-season games with injury in 2007-08 and 14 more this season, Clark has totaled 56 goals and 247 penalty minutes in three-plus seasons with the Caps following his trade from Calgary in August 2005. He was part of the Flames team that reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.

"It's tough because most leaders, whether they're captains or not, are usually leading by example on the ice, so it's hard to do that when you're not playing," Clark told NHL.com. "But I went through that a little last year when I was injured and I just try to be around a lot at practice and watch the guys in the locker room.''

Truth be told, whether he's on the ice or not, Clark is still considered the consummate team leader. He has 4 points and 28 penalty minutes in 28 games this season.

"The reason Clarkie was named captain is because of the way he plays," said Capitals center Brooks Laich. "He's had an unfortunate spell of injuries lately, but he plays a hard-nosed, blue collar style. He's straight forward and he'll stick up for any one of his teammates. He's a great locker room guy and a leader off the ice. Really, he identifies how we play. I watched Clarkie a lot when he got here and learned how to play that same hard-nosed game."

In his first season as captain in 2006-07, Clark posted career highs in goals (30), assists (24), power-play goals (9), shorthanded goals (4) and points (54) in 74 games. He scored the second most goals by a Caps captain in franchise history -- Kevin Hatcher connected for 34 in 1992-93. Clark's 66 penalty minutes were also his lowest total in five seasons.

Learn more about Clark on Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET, when the NHL Network presents "Captains Driven By Bridgestone," a 20-part original series that will feature Clark.

"As captain, I think a lot more about my actions and what I must do to help our team succeed; like not taking that stupid penalty at the wrong time in a game," Clark said. "Maybe I wouldn't have thought that earlier in my career, but now I'm the one telling guys not to take that stupid penalty, especially when you're winning. I still play that same style that has gotten me to this point in my career, but I'm also thinking a lot more. I'm walking that line a little bit between penalty and non-penalty."

The "C" on Clark's jersey hasn't only influenced his decision-making on the ice but off it. He's a strong believer that you're never as good as your best game, and you're rarely as bad as your worst.

"It depends a lot on the type of team you're working with," Clark said. "When you have a quiet team, you need a more vocal leader. When things are going well, you talk to the team, because you don't want to get too up. When things are going bad, you try to get everyone to stay even, not get too down."

Clark, who is in his ninth NHL season, succeeded former Caps captain Jeff Halpern, who left as a free agent to sign with Dallas before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning last February. Clark considered Halpern the quintessential Capitals captain having grown up in nearby Potomac, Md.

"It's leadership," Clark said. "I try to think of past captains that I've had and what they did. You try to lead the young guys and give direction. You try to pull the team together. A lot of being a captain revolves around details; like not turning the puck over at the wrong time. I'm not that type to get up in front of everyone and say 'Hey, that was a bad play.' But I'll take a second and say, 'Hey, you have to do this or that because it'll not only help the team, but help you.' "

So did the 32-year-old Clark ever need to sit down with Alex Ovechkin?

"In the beginning, Ovie was all offense and he wanted to go, go, go," Clark said. "There were some games where he'd already be at the far blue line waiting for the puck. But his transformation has been nothing short of remarkable. He's obviously a tremendous offensive talent, but it's the defensive side that most people don't see or hockey enthusiasts don't pick up on."

Ovechkin is grateful for Clark's leadership.

"He brings it when he plays; he brings energy," Ovechkin said. "He can fight and do all those little things that every team needs to be successful."

On top of that, he's also a great humanitarian. He participates in the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation to help provide financial assistance to children's charities. Clark and his wife, Kim, also work to raise money for a new playground in their summer home of Henderson, N.Y.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.

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