CHL Notebook: Early schedule offers veterans, rookies chance to prove worth

C.J. Clarke during his time with the Mississauga Steelheads. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The most meaningful games are still a couple weeks away in all three leagues, but the Canadian Hockey League season is upon us.

Across the country, teams in the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Western Hockey League have begun playing exhibition games and some rookies have made an impact early on.

As early as it is, it’s hard not to be impressed by quick starts by the likes of rookies Eric Alarie with the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, Brandt Clarke with the OHL’s Barrie Colts and Justin Robidas with the QMJHL’s Val-d’Or Foreurs among others.

Alarie is coming off a four-point performance against Saskatoon on Saturday night. Robidas had two goals and five points in exhibition action against Blainville-Boisbriand. Playing in his second exhibition game on Sunday, Clarke scored three times for the Colts.

The key at this time of year is tempering expectations as teams try to get players ice time and opportunities to prove themselves. On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore starts like the ones Alarie, Clarke, and Robidas have had.

The exhibition schedule is also an opportunity for veteran players to give themselves one more chance to play. Take C.J. Clarke for example.

A 1999-birth year forward, Clarke was a free-agent invite to training camp by the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds and is looking to grab the open overage spot available on the Greyhounds roster. It’s the last opportunity for a veteran forward who has played 245 OHL games.

A former second-round pick of the Peterborough Petes, Clarke broke into the league in the 2015-16 season with the Petes and got into 53 games in his rookie year.

Considered a skilled forward coming out of minor midget, Clarke’s best season with his lone full season with the Flint Firebirds, after a trade from the Petes the previous season, when he scored 16 goals and 28 points in 66 games in 2017-18.

He split last season with the Firebirds and Mississauga Steelheads and is looking to get an opportunity to prove himself in his final season of major-junior eligibility.

Following training camp and heading into the Greyhounds first exhibition game on Saturday night, Greyhounds coach John Dean spoke of exactly when the team expects of the veteran forward.

“He’s a really talented player. Right from minor midget, he’s been a player that could put pucks in the back of the net,” Dean said.

“He’s shown that he can still do it when he wants to, he just needs to be consistent.”

Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis spoke of the need for Clarke to be able to play a key role in order to earn a spot with the team this season.

“He had a great start to his second year but since then there’s been spurts of it, but he’s never been consistent for a year,” Raftis said. “With his skill-set, he’s got to be able to produce. He’s got to be able to play on both sides of the puck. He’s got to be somebody that we can count on to lead this team both on and off the ice.”

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