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Cross-country move has Stockton's Clarke excited

Friday, 09.10.2010 / 11:31 AM / ECHL Report

By Lindsay Kramer - NHL.com Correspondent

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Cross-country move has Stockton's Clarke excited
A move from Wheeling to Stockton has Aaron Clarke looking forward to improving on the 25 goals he scored last season.
Aaron Clarke's late summer project centers around fixing a house he and his wife, Susie, recently purchased on a lake in Peterborough, Ont.

Fortunately for Aaron -- or maybe not -- he's a pretty handy guy.

"My wife wants stuff done. I wouldn't have touched a thing," he joked during a rare break from the hard labor. "She just wants something new."

Aaron's full enjoyment of his new retreat will have to be delayed. Not long after it's finished he'll move to the other side of the country as the 27-year-old has signed with Stockton.

"It's kind of funny timing," he said of the move. "We're on the water, too, so it will be tough to leave. But luckily I'm going to somewhere nice."

It's a significant move in more ways than one. Clarke has played most of his career in roughly the same geographic area -- Niagara University, Robert Morris University and Wheeling. He remodeled his career on the positive side last season, posting highs in goals (25), assists (32) and points (57) in 59 games. His 5 shorthanded goals, also a career-high, paced the ECHL.

All that did was dress up Clarke's packaging. The Nailers shipped his rights to the Thunder on June 15, completing a Dec. 4, 2009 transaction that had right wing Colin Power going to Wheeling from the Thunder for future considerations.

"At the end of the year, a fresh start was going to be good for me," Clarke said. "I was looking for a change in venue. When I heard Stockton had my rights, I was pretty excited about that. Ever since my last year in college, I've done better and better every year. I want to keep that kind of consistency moving forward. I think every year I've just committed myself more and more. Maybe (it's) the challenge of it, trying to push myself."

The most pressing goal for now, though, remains the one Clarke literally keeps hammering away at as training camp approaches.

Can he polish off all his housework before he has to leave for the Thunder?

"Oh yeah," he said with confidence before reconsidering. "Hopefully if I don't get any more projects on the honey-do list."

Bakersfield a starting point for Lepine -- Despite never benefiting from a solid staging area to make the jump, defenseman Jason Lepine has earned brief action with three AHL teams.

His chances for an extended look this season already are off to a better start. Lepine, 25, has signed with Bakersfield, a deal which will give him his first ECHL minutes. In his first four seasons Lepine has skated in the CHL, SPHL and IHL, including 11 goals and 33 assists for IHL Bloomington in 2009-10.

"I've always heard from other coaches and scouts that the East Coast is a better developmental league to get to the AHL,'' said Lepine, who has played six games at that level. "If I excel at the East Coast level, I have a good shot at getting a few more games in the AHL. You never know what's going to happen."

Whatever unfolds, it's a sound guess Lepine will plow through it. Two seasons ago he missed much of the season with a torn ACL. Earlier in his career, major junior hockey passed him by and a couple of college opportunities fell through.

"I just love going to the rink. I love competing," he said. "It's coming easy to me now. That just makes me want to keep playing hockey."

College reunions in Elmira, Idaho -- A few recent ECHL signings have created college reunions in the locker room.

Elmira picked up second-year forwards Brock McBride and Kevin DeVergilio. The two were teammates for four seasons at St. Lawrence and roommates during their sophomore, junior, and senior years. DeVergilio said he was about to head overseas before McBride, who had signed with the Jackals, helped convince him to give that team a try. It was a persistent sell -- DeVergilio said it took him two weeks to change his mind about leaving.

"Together we made the decision it's a good fit for us," said DeVergilio, who played with Idaho last season. "It will be fun. It's easy to play with someone you're best friends with."

The Steelheads' signing of forward Rob Pearce, who played with Ontario last season, teams him with returning defenseman Dustin Friesen. Before turning pro, the pair played together at the University of New Brunswick, and were teammates on the 2007 CIS University Cup championship team at that school, with Pearce scoring the game-winning goal in overtime of the title game.

Fans can pick ECHL all-decade team -- The ECHL is skating hard into the season of campaigns and elections. The league announced earlier this week that it will name an all-decade team to honor top players who competed from 2000 to 2010. This is the first time that the ECHL has assembled such a group.

Teams and fans are encouraged to nominate and promote their favorites through Sept. 24. The league then will winnow the candidates to a group of finalists, and in October, votes can be cast via ECHL.com. The team will be named in November, consisting of six forwards, four defensemen, two goaltenders and one coach.

Candidates must have played or coached in parts of at least four seasons from the 2000-01 season through 2009-10 to be eligible for the team. Only those accomplishments, statistics, awards, honors and achievements earned during ECHL play should be taken into account when nominating players or coaches.

The idea was the product of Mike Murray, the ECHL's vice president of hockey operations. The ECHL began its own Hall of Fame three years ago, and Murray said the league wanted to come up with a way to honor its more recent stars.

"We kind of thought this would be a good way to celebrate the more recent history of the league," Murray said. "It gets fans excited about the season. Our fan base is very passionate and loyal. It's nice to see them getting excited about nominating their favorites."

Quote of the Day

He seemed to thrive on his own and didn't really need any push from me. I certainly don't want to get in the way of the coaches. You see how that goes sometimes. I never really worried about it and just enjoyed the ride.

— David Ekblad on his son's [Aaron Ekblad] journey to the NHL, signing with the Florida Panthers