By Mark Colley
To call the Clarkes a hockey family would be an understatement. Graeme Clarke, 21, was chosen by the New Jersey Devils in the third round of the 2019 NHL entry draft. Brandt Clarke, 19, was drafted eighth overall in 2021 by the Los Angeles Kings.
Their cousins play. Their dad played. Their grandparents played hockey too.
Naturally, Mackenzie Clarke laces ’em up as well. The younger sister of Brandt and Graeme, Mackenzie is a defender for the Ottawa Lady Sens U22 ‘AA’ team.
The Grade 12 student at John McCrae Secondary School will soon be competing for Team Ontario at the Canada Winter Games. When she takes to the ice for the Feb. 18-Mar. 5 Games in P.E.I., Mackenzie will be following in the footsteps of Brandt, a 2019 Canada Games participant.
Mackenzie Clarke started skating at age two and began playing hockey when she was four or five. She played both boys’ and girls’ hockey until she was nine or 10, before committing to girls’ hockey full-time.
Growing up around her brothers pushed her to be better, she indicates.
“We’re really competitive,” Clarke explains. “They push me to be the best I can be and vice versa. It’s just really fun in the basement, while we’re working out together or shooting pucks on the ODR, even just ping pong. It’s fun and they’ve always been amazing role models to me.”
For Dana Mulvihill, Clarke’s coach with the Lady Sens, this extensive exposure to hockey is an asset. He believes it allows the Clarkes to focus on other parts of their game instead of the basics.
“It comes second nature to all of them,” Mulvihill highlights. “That’s why you see them having a little more awareness, a little more hockey sense than some of the rest.”
Mulvihill has known Clarke for close to a decade, dating back to when he lived on the same street as her family when she was growing up. He says Clarke is “one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet” and constantly positive in a team environment.
“Her teammates love her. Won’t say a bad word about anybody, won’t be negative,” he notes. “She’s just a really, really nice person and her teammates definitely see that.”
This extends to when Clarke got the news she was chosen for the Canada Winter Games. Mulvihill and the rest of the Lady Sens only found out from Clarke’s parents, because Clarke is “more interested in learning … than she is in talking about her accolades.”
At the Games, Clarke will benefit from her brother’s past experience. At the 2019 Games in Red Deer, Alta., Brandt helped Team Ontario reach the tournament final, where they took silver behind Quebec in an overtime loss.
(Brandt enjoyed a better fate in overtime this year when he started the play that led to Canada’s tournament-winning goal at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Halifax).
Clarke says she’s learned from Brandt to enjoy the moment.
“The memories will last forever,” Clarke signals. “[Brandt] remembers every day of [the Canada Games] and just how much fun it was, how much you learn.”
Clarke will playing alongside a pair of former teammates in P.E.I., though Naomi Baechler and Ashley Allard are now usually on-ice rivals of hers with the Nepean Wildcats. Ottawa and Nepean are neck-and-neck in the Ontario Women’s Hockey League U22 Elite standings with 41 and 38 points in 29 and 30 games, respectively.
“I’m great friends with them, so just getting to share this experience with them is gonna be really special,” underlines Clarke, who had Allard’s hockey bag with her while talking to the Ottawa Sports Pages. “To have those familiar faces already, it will just make it so much easier.”
Allard, the Wildcats’ captain and a future University of Connecticut Huskie, has a family hockey tradition as well. Her dad was a head coach in France, which is where the All Saints Catholic High School senior first played hockey. Allard’s three older brothers were also hockey players. She plays centre.
Goalie Baechler was meant to be between the pipes since her earliest days in the sport. Her parents signed her up for figure skating at age 3, but she had a tough time learning because it hurt every time she fell so they figured some more protective equipment was in order. The De La Salle high school student has a 95% academic average and has committed to join the Yale University Bulldogs in 2024.
The Ontario female hockey team won four straight CWG titles from 1995 through 2007, but are now on a three-Games gold drought. They missed the podium entirely in 2019 for just the second time ever.
6 local male hockey players make Team O
Ontario has been on the podium in 10 of 14 Canada Games male hockey tournaments. With a half-dozen representatives from the nation’s capital, local players will make up a big part of Ontario’s charge for the championship in 2023. All six play in Hockey Eastern Ontario’s U18 ‘AAA’ league.
It didn’t take long for Brossard, QC native Harry Nansi to make his mark in the U18 league. In just his second game, Nansi broke the single-game scoring record with a double-hat trick (six goals) to go alongside two assists as he contributed to all eight of the Nepean Raiders’ goals.
Nansi’s Nepean teammate Quinn Beauchesne has the league’s best points-per-game average among defencemen. The 15-year-old missed nine of the Raiders’ games but is still tops among rookie defenders in league scoring with seven goals and 26 assists in 25 games.
Tristan Boudreau is one of two Renfrew Wolves players on Team Ontario. The 6′ 2″ defender spent last year at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Rhode Island before returning home. Boudreau’s two older sisters were both competitive figure skaters, though he was more drawn to the fast-paced team sport.
Chase Hull is not only the top rookie scorer in the league, the centreman is #2 overall and tops the goal-scoring chart with 34 goals in 34 games. Having won HEO titles for the past three seasons, Hull again finds himself at the head of the standings with the 30-3-2 Wolves.
Peter Legostaev is next in the rookie scoring race, sandwiched between Nansi and Hull, with whom he celebrated a U15 league title last year for Myers Automotive ‘AAA’. Legostaev has 25 goals and 24 assists in 33 contests for the Smiths Falls Bears this season, though he’s missed the past two contests after previous games with 18 and 14 penalty minutes.
A smooth-skating defenceman who plays a calm two-way game, Maasilan Etchart lists Erik Karlsson as his role model. The 15-year-old who stands 6 feet tall played for the Ottawa Jr. 67’s and Ottawa Sting before joining his current Rockland Nationals squad.
Visit our Ottawa at the Canada Winter Games central webpage for more coverage on our local athletes’ journeys to the PEI 2023 Games.
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