There was no question that Clark had the skills to play in the NHL. What was a matter of some contention was which position he should play and who his linemates should be.
While Clark had stated his preference to play defense, he also spent some time playing forward with the Saskatoon Blades. Immediately after he was drafted there was speculation that the Leafs wanted him at forward. Many believed that Clark would play on a line with Rick Vaive and Bill Derlago. The formation of a “kid line” with Clark, Russ Courtnall, and Gary Leeman was also a possibility. According to Coach Dan Maloney a decision would not be made until the season began. He told the Star, "We’ll get to see a lot of Clark during our exhibition games before making a decision on where to play him."
While Maloney was uncertain about where Clark would play there was no doubt about what type of player he had. He described Clark as “a quality player with a lot of talent. A good skater, handles the puck well and he’s an aggressive player." Rick Vaive echoed Maloney’s confidence in Clark’s abilities: "I’ve never seen him play but from what I’ve heard, he’s a good one."1
It did not take long for Clark to make an impression. Clark started camp’s first scrimmage on a line with Courtnall and Leeman.2 While Maloney was moving from his seat down to ice level to get a closer look at the troika, Clark scored two goals. "I didn’t even get to see them," Maloney complained. The trio seemed to be a natural fit. "The three of them all came from the same place – Notre Dame College. Clark’s the abrasive one. Courtnall has the speed and puck-handling ability and Leeman should fit in well, but it will be his first full year as a right winger," he explained.3 The new line needed a name.
The Hound Line
After an impressive showing at training camp Clark, Courtnall and Leeman were given the opportunity to play together to start the season. "They’ll be a line as long as they show they can do the job," said Leaf coach Maloney. "If they can’t do it, inexperience likely will be the reason. They certainly have the natural ability and speed." The line came with a readymade nickname. All three had attended a small school, Notre Dame College, in Wilcox Saskatchewan. The Notre Dame teams are called the Hounds, thus they were dubbed, The Hound Line. (Courtnall and Clark actually played together for one season at Notre Dame.) Leeman was excited about the prospect of playing with two young Hound alumni: "The Notre Dame thing has been fun for us. We all learned a great deal of hockey there and were proud to be Hounds. It would be nifty if we could stay together and keep the nickname."4 Harold Ballard was excited about what the addition of Clark would mean for the team. "I know I say at the start of each season we’re going to do great things but I’ve never been more optimistic in recent years than I am right now." Same as it ever was.
For his part, Clark was optimistic for the coming season and what he would bring to the team. "So far, everything has gone very well. I have to go out and be aggressive." Clark had his contract and he had his linemates, the rest is history.
- Leafs’ hot rookie checks in the big question is where wendel clark will line up. 1985. Toronto Star, Aug 27, 1985.
- From the department of, you have to be kidding me: “There were 67 bodies in the Toronto camp, all but one of them declared sound by Leaf doctors.”
- Battle brewing over blueline spots leaf rookie clark opens camp with rush. The Globe and Mail, Sep 18, 1985.
- Hounds are making noise at leaf camp. 1985. Toronto Star, Sep 21, 1985