Clark Gillies

Clark Gillies was born and grew up in Moose Jaw which at that time had a population of approximately 36,000. His dad was a department store salesman and Clark had an easy childhood. In the summer he played baseball and in the winter hockey.

Clark was actually so good at baseball that he played three seasons of minor-league baseball with the Houston Astros' farm team in Covington, West Virginia, where his season-high batting average was .257. Later on he once impressed the New York Mets as a power hitter when he took informal batting practice at Shea Stadium. But luckily enough for all hockey fans Clark decided to pursue a hockey career instead.

He played three seasons of junior hockey for the Regina Pats (WHL) where he had three very solid seasons, collecting 79, 92 and 112 points. His last season culminated in a Memorial Cup win, the championship of junior hockey. Clark recalled the years in Regina.

"My first year in Regina I had a lot of fights, over 200 minutes in penalties (248 including playoffs). I gained a little respect. I was a big kid, and it just came naturally. I didn't want anybody to push me around. I had to establish a base for myself. I think it helped me the last two years. The second year I didn't have too many problems and the third year was relatively quiet - five, six, 10 fights."

What Clark developed in Regina was confidence. Clark also went on to be a massive 6'3" and 215 Ibs. His size, toughness and leadership qualities made NY Islanders draft him 4th overall in the 1974 entry draft.

Clark immediately made an impact in the NHL by scoring 25 goals and 47 points. Although Clark got little support for rookie of the year honors in 1974-75, many hockey people still felt that he was a far superior player to Eric Vail, who won the Calder Memorial Trophy that season.

As a rookie, Clark took on Dave Schultz in the Stanley Cup semifinals against the eventual champions Flyers. Schultz had just set a new NHL record with 472 PIMs and was the "terror of the NHL" at that time. Clark destroyed Schultz and sent everyone around the NHL a clear message. Nobody messes with Clark Gillies or the up and coming New York Islanders.

Clark quickly blossomed to a key player in the NY Islanders quest for the Stanley Cup. He scored over 30 goals in six of his next seven seasons and had point totals of 61, 55, 85, 91, 54, 78 and 77. In the late 1970's and early 80's he was one of NHL's premier left wingers and was a 1st team All-Star in 1978 and 79. He was also the MVP in the 1979 Challenge Cup series vs. the Soviets. And when Canada was trounced 8-1 against the Soviets in the 1981 Canada Cup final, Clark scored the only Canadian goal and was the only player on the Canadian squad who really gave 110 % until the end.

He didn't dazzle you with his speed or his stickhandling. He had a hard shot, but his best trademarks was his great two way play, hard work, leadership and the respect opponents had for his fists. Clark didn't have to drop em' very often, but when he did there was virtually nobody who could beat him. Clark destroyed the reputation of quite a few so called enforcers.

He once knocked out tough guy Ed Hospodar that left him in a pool of blood with a broken jaw...all this with one single punch! He also gave solid beatings to such great fighters as Terry O'Reilly and Al Secord. But he was in no way an enforcer himself.

"I never thought about fighting or myself as an enforcer or a policeman. I was on the ice to do a job, score some goals and mainly stop the other guys from scoring. Fighting never was a priority to me." Clark said.

For many years Clark played on the so called "Long Island Lightning Company" line. His original line mates on that line was Bryan Trottier and Billy Harris who was later replaced by Mike Bossy. The trio of Gillies-Trottier-Bossy couldn't be stopped on most nights and struck fear into opponents. Clark always used his size and strength to his advantage while Bossy and Trottier conducted their magic with the puck. He was most effective when he positioned himself in front of the net to screen the goalie.

Clark was also a great leader, and a proud member of the NHL captain's fraternity. Clark was only 22 years old when he was selected to replace 36-year old veteran Ed Westfall as a captain on February 3,1977. Westfall had been NY Islanders only captain since 1972 at that time.

"It was time for a younger man to take over the job" Westfall said. "Clark was the right man. He gets along with everyone and is the type of player who can lead others. He can be closer to the younger guys on the team."

The other guys considered for captaincy at that time were Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin. The young Trottier (20) at that time fully agreed with having Clark as a captain.

"He's just big and everybody likes him. Everybody looks up to him. His hustling gives us a lift out there. He hasn't got a hated bone in his body. He's easy to talk to and he holds a lot of respect among the other fellas." Trottier said.

Clark played for the NY Islanders until 1986 and led them to four consecutive Stanley Cups. He was a vital part of the NY Islanders machinery and a great fan favorite.

In 1986 NY Islanders exposed Clark in the waiver draft. He was picked up by Buffalo Sabres and played two more years for the Sabres before hanging 'em up in 1988. He retired with 958 games under his belt, and 319 goals, 378 assists and 697 in his pocket. More importantly he has 4 Stanley Cup rings on his fingers, thanks in large part to his 94 points in 164 playoff games.

Clark Gillies was the power forward of the 1970's and 80's. He did not only bang in goals from the slot, but he was great in the corners, a very good two-way player, could fight, worked hard, had fine leadership qualities, had a huge heart and was a winner. GM's today would kill to have a guy like Clark on their roster.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article.
What I remember about Gillies is as a Junior in Regina, he had some great Battles with Tiger Williams. Tiger played for Swift Current and people would come to the games just to see Gillies and Williams square off.
I see Tiger is also on the tough guy list.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree Great article and loved Gillies in the old Exhibition Stadium. My dad and I never missed the Flin Flon Bomber matchups with the Pats. Now that was some nasty but awesome hockey. Clark Gillies is and always will be a class act on and off the ice. Like most Prairie Boys! Compliments to the author of this article. Nicely done.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not only was he a great player (his induction to to the Hockey Hall of Fame recognizes this) but he is a heck of a nice guy.

I've met a lot of the 1980-84 Islanders (during and after they played). I was at lunch one day and Clark was sitting with a business associate enjoying some fine Italian food and wine.

I immediately recognized him but did not want to disturb him during lunch.

We both finished around the same time and he was standing by the bar waiting for his ride and we got to chatting. I asked him for an autograph and he was as nice as could be and took the time to write some nice things besides his signature.

Further he was open to talking about his days as a player and the game as it was today. It was he who direct our conversation and rather than being bothered after a lunch-he enjoyed it-not as some athlete reclaiming his past--but as one who respected his place in the game and showed his true love of the game.

I've never heard a bad word about him from people around him during his playing years and if you ever read about him and Hospodar later playing together in Buffalo you'll get a good laugh.

He really is a rare gem of a guy and player. Every kid in the NHL needs to watch how he played-tough with talent.

10:19 AM  

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