With tears streaming down his cheeks, Wendel Clark said goodbye to hockey.
The 15-year veteran retired Thursday, ending a career in which his fearless play endeared him to Toronto Maple Leafs fans.
"I just wanted to play hockey," the 33-year-old winger said at a news conference at Air Canada Centre. "That's pretty much the whole story."
In his prime, Clark could score with a wicked wrist shot, punish opponents with clean checks and drop his gloves at a moment's notice. He was a fighter with a knockout punch. He was also the fans' choice, and he rocked Maple Leaf Gardens.
"I've been asked a lot why we've had the relationship we've had," Clark said. I've never had an answer. But maybe that's why this is the right place to retire. ...
"I started as a Leaf and I can end as a Leaf. No matter where I played this has always felt like home."
Clark spent 12 1/2 seasons during three stints with Toronto, and he also played for Quebec, the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Chicago. He was a 30-plus goal scorer five times.
"For 15 years, even when he was wearing other jerseys, Leaf fans loved Wendel Clark," Leafs president Ken Dryden said. "Wendel, you have given Leaf fans many years of your career and many more years of memories."
The Maple Leafs, who made Clark the first overall pick in the 1985 entry draft, reportedly had no plans to pick up the option on his $700,000 contract for the 2000-2001 season. There is a chance he might join the front office.
Clark's rambunctious style took a toll on his body, and his career was beset by injuries.
"I think that was a factor," said Leafs winger Steve Thomas, who first played with Clark in 1985-86. "He was 5-10 but played like he was 6-3. It showed the heart he had."
For his career, Clark had 330 goals and 234 assists in 793 regular-season games and 37 goals and 32 assists in 95 playoff games.
The height of Clark's popularity probably came during the 1993 playoffs, when he and Doug Gilmour carried an overachieving team to the semifinals. Clark's goal in Game 6 against Los Angeles had given the Leafs the lead, and it seemed as if a trip to the finals to play Montreal was imminent. But the Kings came back and won Game 7.
Clark's best season followed in 1993-94, when he scored a career-best 46 goals in only 64 games. hen, as injuries followed, his career began to slide.
Clark never won a Stanley Cup. The Colorado Avalanche, transplanted from Quebec, traded the winger to the Islanders early in the 1995-96 season, the year the Avalanche won the Cup.
Clark returned to the Maple Leafs for a second time in March 1996. On Jan. 8, he returned to Toronto again, where he had one last playoff run.
"We added it up and it's been five cities in the last year," Clark said. "It gets a little tougher."
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