Wendel’s Book a Revelation

TORONTO (Oct. 19) — The Wendel Clark that hockey fans have known for the past 31 years is not the Wendel Clark they will come to know in his surprisingly–blunt autobiography, written with my former colleague at The FAN–590, Jim Lang (co–author of Tie Domi’s book). As such, BLEEDING BLUE Giving My All For The Game is clearly among the best Maple Leaf memoirs I have read. Published by Simon & Schuster, it will be released on Nov. 1 and available in bookstores for $32.99 CAD / $24.99 UDS.

From the moment he became No. 1 pick in the 1985 National Hockey League draft at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Clark has carefully preserved his image — speaking deliberately and without fuss or quarrel. He does that image no harm in the memoir, yet he wanders refreshingly beyond the lines that have shaped his off–ice comportment. On the ice, we remember Clark for one of the best combinations of pugnacity and scoring touch in modern Leaf annals. No Toronto player in my lifetime has been able to so–quickly subdue an opponent in a fight. Few have possessed the accuracy and velocity of Wendel’s wrist–shot. His autobiography more accurately represents that image of Clark. In no way is it even mildly milquetoast.

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Wendel turns 50 years of age next Tuesday (Oct. 25). If that doesn’t make Toronto hockey fans of a certain vintage feel old, nothing will. On Tuesday of this week, I visited Wendel in his 51st–floor condominium that overlooks the downtown–Toronto skyline and the Air Canada Centre. It brought to mind a much–earlier visit with the popular Leaf — in the summer of 1988, when he was 22 and I was 29. During my first summer as a general reporter at CJCL AM–1430 (which became, just more than four years later, Canada’s first all–sports radio station), I met with Wendel while he was polishing up a bright–red sports car. It wasn’t the happiest juncture of his NHL career — a mysterious and debilitating back injury had limited him to 28 games with the Maple Leafs in 1987–88 and just 15 the following season. Still, he smiled; made me feel welcome, and maintained the practical, nose–to–the–grindstone attitude that allowed him to overcome the career–threatening ailment and memorably shoot the Leafs to within a goal of the 1993 Stanley Cup final.

The eye–catching Clark condominium is a testament to his acclaim as a sports figure in Canada’s largest city, and to careful management of his finances. Two years ago, he and his wife, Denise, sold their sprawling farm north of Toronto and purchased — with cash — the bi–level suite that offers a panoramic view of Lake Ontario; the buildings and C.N. Tower to the west, and a stunning look at the office–towers of Bay Street to the north (with the venerable Royal York Hotel in the foreground). From the perspective of his wrap–around balcony, a running vault would land Wendel — Superman–like — on the roof of the Air Canada Centre.

See for yourself:

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FROM THE BALCONY OF HIS 51st–FLOOR CONDO, WENDEL HAS A TERRIFIC VIEW OF THE C.N. TOWER.

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THE WRAPAROUND BALCONY LOOKS NORTH TOWARD THE GRAND–DADDY OF TORONTO HOTELS.

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AND, BENEATH THE CORNER OF HIS BALCONY: THE HOME OF THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS.

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IN 2014, THEIR THREE CHILDREN HAVING MOVED ON, WENDEL AND DENISE CLARK SOLD A SPRAWLING FARM NORTH OF TORONTO AND PURCHASED THEIR DOWNTOWN CONDOMINIUM — WITHIN A STONE’S THROW OF THE OFFICE TOWERS ON BAY ST. (ABOVE) AND THE AIR CANADA CENTRE (BELOW).

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THE BOOK

Having watched all of Wendel’s career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a pair of images routinely comes to mind — his iconic, crushing hit (Apr. 1, 1986) on Blues defenseman Bruce Bell at the old St. Louis Arena… and his goal in the final 1½ minutes of regulation at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif. (May 27, 1993) that sent Game 6 of the Campbell Conference final against the Los Angeles Kings into overtime.

First, the Bell Hit (YouTube video: http://bit.ly/2dOzAwU) and how it’s described in the book:

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WENDEL CLARK’S FIRST TWO HOCKEY CARDS: O–PEE–CHEE 1986–87 AND 1987–88.

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IN THE CONDO BENEATH TWO OF WENDEL’S THREE NHL ALL–STAR JERSEYS.

I have previously written that Game 6 of the 1993 Campbell Conference final between Toronto and Los Angeles is the most gripping and emotional match involving the Leafs that I covered in my 23 years as a reporter at The FAN–590. With a 3–2 lead in the best–of–seven series, the Leafs needed to win at the L.A. Forum for their first appearance in the Stanley Cup championship round since 1967. Trailing 4–2 in the third period, Wendel scored twice to complete a hat–trick. His third marker, which tied the game, 4–4, and sent it into overtime (at 18:39 of the third period and Felix Potvin on the bench for an extra attacker), could be the most memorable by any Leaf in the post–’67 era. For the lone time since that last Cup triumph, the Leafs were one goal away from the final… and a match–up with Montreal. As only he could, Bob Cole described the dramatic play on Hockey Night In Canada: http://bit.ly/2dOLCX1.

Clark vividly recalled the goal — and its disappointing aftermath — in his book:

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WENDEL AND WAYNE FROM THE 1991–92 TOPPS STADIUM CLUB HOCKEY CARD SET.

When I asked Clark why he now chose to write his autobiography — and, particularly, with such a blunt tone — he replied: “I’d been approached by a number of [publishing] companies since I retired as a player, but this just seemed like the right offer at the right time. Maybe it has something to do with me turning 50; maybe I’ve just come to the point where I want people to see me a bit differently than the hockey player they watched on TV back in the day. In my current role [as community representative] with the Leafs, I haven’t completely disappeared. I imagine many Leaf fans saw the jersey–retirement ceremony prior to last Saturday’s home opener [against Boston]. That was an incredible honor. So, the book is still kind of fresh, and obviously more in–depth than what people have read or seen about me in the past.

“Hopefully, readers will find the story interesting.”

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CLARK GAZES AT A COMPILATION–PORTRAIT OF HIS NHL TEAMS — A GIFT FROM THE NHLPA.

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OF COURSE, WENDEL HAS A GOLD SEAT FROM MAPLE LEAF GARDENS IN HIS CONDOMINIUM.

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WENDEL CLARK AS A MAPLE LEAF IN 1992… AND TODAY, ONE WEEK BEFORE HIS 50th BIRTHDAY.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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