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Wendel Clark altered role to chase World Junior glory

by Shawn P. Roarke

TORONTO -- One of the dominant messages when it comes to the World Junior Championship is that elite players will have to adjust roles.

For Canadian kids, that is especially true as the country's developmental system produces wave after wave of players capable of playing on the international stage at the Under-20 level. Virtually everyone who shows up at Canada camp is a star on his club team, but that will not be the case for those players when the final roster is picked for the tournament in Sweden, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

Some players will have to check egos and play lesser rolls with passion if Canada hopes to find gold.

If the players on hand at Hockey Canada's 2014 Selection Camp at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence need extra motivation to alter their game, or their expectations, they need to look no further than Wendel Clark, one of the game's most legendary players.

Clark, 47, played on the 1985 World Junior Championship team that won gold in Finland. But he did not play at the position that earned him an invite to the tryout camp in Belleville, Ontario. With the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, Clark was a standout offensive-defenseman who put up more than 70 points in each of his two seasons of junior. However, when he arrived at the tryouts for the national team, there was a glut of qualified defensemen.

On the day the team was scheduled to leave for Europe, Clark received an early-morning call from team management and feared the worse.

"I was called in, that was that meeting where if you are getting cut, you get the 7 o'clock call and if you don't get that call you are on the 8 o'clock bus sort of thing," Clark said.

Clark was at Day 1 of the Canadian selection camp to be introduced as an honorary captain for the 2015 World Junior Championship, which is being hosted by Toronto and Montreal. He was joined at the presser by the other honorary captains: Gary Roberts, Martin Lapointe and Marc Denis.

"I got the 7 o'clock call to meet Sherry Bassin and [coach] Terry Simpson and basically that was the question. In order to make the team, will you play forward and defense and/or both or one or the other," he said. "They took two guys over that year, both John Minor and myself who played defense, and we played half and half at the World Junior."

In the end, Clark played three games at forward and three games at defense in the tournament. He was happy to just have the opportunity.

And it all worked out for the best. Clark was selected No. 1 by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1985 NHL Draft. He joined the team that following fall, as a forward, and embarked on a 13-year run with the franchise that makes him one of the most revered athletes in this city.

"I got drafted and the next [15] years were as a forward, so that was a pretty big change," he said, chuckling, when asked about how the tournament prepared him to be a professional hockey player.

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