Flyers prospect Matt Clackson skates in a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils. (Jack Cassidy)
Matt Clackson has seen the videos, read the articles and digested the statistics. Actually, he had no choice as the son of Kim Clackson, one of the more physically imposing NHL players of the 1970s.
"I've seen the tapes and from what I remember, dad was a pretty intimidating guy," Clackson said.
The elder Clackson, who spent four seasons in the World Hockey Association with the Indianapolis Racers and Winnipeg Jets, would eventually total 370 penalty minutes in 106 games during two NHL seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins (1979-80) and Quebec Nordiques. In the first period of his first NHL game, in fact, Clackson tussled with Boston's Stan Jonathan and Al Secord in a prelude to future dust-ups.
What Kim Clackson lacked in stature at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, he certainly made up for in toughness and desire. Now, his eldest son, 23-year-old Matt, who was drafted in the seventh round (No. 215) by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005, is hoping to follow in dad's footsteps.
"My dad probably had the biggest influence on me than anybody else," said Matt Clackson, now with the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms. "He was at every game and always is there to provide little tips afterwards. Just by the way he played and how hard he worked is something I'll always remember. He is a great role model for me."
After ranking seventh on his team with 25 points and first with 270 penalty minutes in 56 games with the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League in 2004-05, Clackson attended Western Michigan University for three seasons. There, the 6-foot, 196-pound left wing learned discipline since fighting is banned on the collegiate level. He not only improved as a defensive forward, but became an effective penalty killer.
"It definitely was tough to play by those standards since the physical aspect is such a big part of my game," Clackson said. "I think college gave me the best chance to work on other areas of my game, and I feel that really helped me get to this point. After three years of college, I feel I'm ready and that's why I decided to leave after my junior season. I feel this would be the best place to improve and continue my hockey career. The college game is a lot different than pro with regard to defensive coverage, and you must be a lot more disciplined within your system or you're in trouble."
On March 19, Clackson signed a two-year contract with the Flyers and appeared in two games with the Phantoms, picking up 19 penalty minutes.
"Matt's a real tough kid," Flyers Director of Hockey Operations Chris Pryor said. "He's a hard-working player with a very strong work ethic. He's a character guy, and I don't think you can ever have enough of them in your system. When it comes to his chances as a pro, Matt's a guy who is going to have to be physical to succeed. That's his game, and we expect nothing less of him.
"We've seen him drop the gloves, and he can play that style — but he's also come a long way in other areas of his game."
Clackson's zest to showcase that physicality got the attention of Phantoms coach Craig Berube, now an assistant coach to John Stevens with the Flyers.
"I've seen him the last few years at the camps and during his time with the Phantoms and he is certainly determined," Berube said. "He's a big tough winger that goes out and plays physical. But he knows how to play it simple by hitting, forechecking and mixing it up when he has to."
"I want to continue (the physical aspect) of my game, but I don't want that to be my whole game," he said. "I think it's a good part to keep in my repertoire but I just don't want to dwell on being intimidating and able to fight. I also want to be able to, if needed, to make the hits, skate and do what I have to do to play and help my team."