The story begins with a young boy obsessed with hockey – a boy who grew up in a Saskatchewan farmhouse, who’d practice his slapshot for hours on end, even in the freezing cold weather.
By the time he reached age 20, the hard work and determination paid off for Wendel Clark, who began his professional hockey career in 1985 with the Toronto Maple Leafs — six months after he helped Canada win the World Junior Championships.
He’d go on to play for Toronto 13 seasons, and after retiring in 2000 at age 33, he’d already played nearly 900 games and scored 367 goals.
Clark’s fascinating journey to becoming one of hockey’s household names is chronicled in the just-released autobiography, Bleeding Blue: Giving My All for the Game.
Co-writer Jim Lang described the book as “insightful comments about life, hockey and his passions.”
“Wendel has a common theme: why he did what he did. His philosophy is: do you like it or do you love it? If you love it, you’d do things that people will not normally do to get there. People who made it did so because they loved it, not just liked it,” noted Lang, York Region radio station TheRegion’s morning host.
“Whatever you do, that passion will steer you through. That was pretty impactful and insightful stuff. I didn’t know Wendel could be that deep, but he is.”
What the reader will also discover is that, while Clark was on the ice body checking, off the ice he had to check his own body for problems. Back issues and health issues had plagued the player for most of his career.
“After spending extensive time reliving the subject, only then I really knew just how bad things were. Physically and emotionally, he was draining every day. He had physio twice a day, every day, just to get on the ice. I didn’t know it was to that extent,” Lang revealed.
“You think about what he went through – and we all might say, ‘too much, I can’t take it!’ He didn’t, until he was completely physically unable to play. Hopefully people will be inspired. That to me, is the perseverance.”
On the upside, Clark somehow managed to avoid a certain injury that most hockey players experience.
Despite his fair share of on-ice tussles, he hadn’t lost (or chipped) a single tooth while playing. “That was quite the surprise. He had been on the ice since he was two-digits; thirty years once he retired.”
What most impressed Lang, however, was that despite Clark’s rise to athletic stardom, he remained down to earth, who always remembered being that boy in the Saskatchewan farmhouse.
“He’s devoid of any ego. Yes, he had a great career. He’s just Wendel. He treats everyone with reverence; he’s kind, and that’s part of his appeal. He credits his mom in getting along with everyone, and that’s something he carries with him to this day.”
Whether hockey fan or not, the traits of willpower, humility, and resolve are ones anyone can relate to.