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Phantoms’ Hubert Clarke eager to get started

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Phantoms defenseman Hubert Clarke participates during the team's camp last week at Printscape Arena in Canonsburg, Pa.

Youngstown is a long way away from Norway House, Manitoba, but that’s no issue for Phantoms’ Phase II Draft selection Hubert Clarke.

Not much of a homebody, Clarke is eager for the chance to play at the Covelli Centre and to get going into the new season.

“I’m just really excited to play at that skill level of hockey,” he said. “I know it’s really good. It’s a really good junior league, one of the best. I’m just excited to see how the season goes, of course, and just really excited about playing there next season.”

Likening his game to New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba, Clarke is going to catch the eyes of fans quickly with his gritty, physical play.

But he’s not just a bruiser on the backend.

Clarke is another in a growing line of physical yet skilled blueliners for the Phantoms.

“He’s very mobile, he’s got a good shot, moves pucks, joins the rush. He’s really kind of what we look for,” Phantoms coach Ryan Ward said. “He’s a gritty hard player. He’s tough. Just his willingness to come here and his eagerness to get to Youngstown and play for the Phantoms from Norway House. That just shows, I think, where our organization is at and where we’re going, what we’re building and super happy to have him up,. And he’s been a great teammate so far. The guys love him and I’m excited to see him in a Phantoms jersey.”

Clarke started his hockey career as a goaltender but felt like he was too stationary in net. Having a good team in front of him accentuated that, so he wanted a change.

After suiting up on defense in a tournament and enjoying it, the change became permanent.

“I used to be a kid that wanted to be active and sweat a lot. When I was younger, my team was a really good team, so I wouldn’t really have to move (much in net),” Clarke said. “So one day, I just said to my parents, ‘Hey, I want to get sweaty like them, and I want to be a (skater).’ The next tournament I had, I got (to play defense) and I really enjoyed it, and found myself pretty good at hockey for my first time, so I stuck with it and I’m here now.”

In just a few years since changing positions, Clarke has improved dramatically, and that growth is something that has Ward excited.

“To see that transformation and hear his story is awesome,” Ward said. “It’s not something that happens very often and the fact that he is as good as he is, this quickly after making a position change, is crazy.”

Clarke’s main goal this year is to see the ice as much as possible.

“I’m just hoping to play quite a bit of games,” Clarke said. “I’m open to develop and get my game a lot better for my second year in Youngstown, and hopefully make the NCAA in three years time. That’s my main goal coming into Youngstown.”

Originally aiming to go the WHL route, having been drafted by the Prince Albert (Saskatchewan) Raiders, Clarke changed course, believing the NCAA route may be the better path.

Once the offers started coming in, Clarke opted to commit to Western Michigan.

“Before Christmas, I was wanting to go to the WHL, and then I kind of did some research on the NCAA, and I looked at all the players I came out of the NCAA, and that’s when I got interested in the NCAA,” Clarke said. “I knew the Michigan teams were really good. Of course, I did research on all the Michigan teams, and then I looked at Western Michigan, and I just was really interested in going there. Then just one day, I got a text from them, and they wanted to start talking, and I just committed there (in May).”

Clarke and the Phantoms open the regular season in Cranberry, Pa. as a part of the USHL Fall Classic. Youngstown opens up at home on Oct. 18 against Lincoln.

Have an interesting story? Contact Brian Yauger by email at byauger@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @_brianyauger.

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