Clarke returning to help Belfast Giants shoot down Stars
Aaron Clarke will return to the Belfast Giants line-up tonight with the intention of unleashing a month's worth of frustration on the Dundee Stars.
Doug Christiansen labelled Clarke as a player who has the capabilities to deliver the goals that will make up for the loss of both Benoit Doucet and Brock McBride and now, with a six-match suspension completed, the 29-year-old is ready to prove his coach right.
That ban was the result of Clarke making accidental contact with an official in the immediate aftermath of the controversial offside goal that gave the Sheffield Steelers an overtime victory over the Giants in early December.
At the time it was the last thing that Christiansen needed, with Doucet and a number of others on the injured list before McBride left for Slovenia, but the players who have been in action have kept the Giants on top of the Elite League table, with only one defeat suffered in the last six games.
Clarke's return will see the Giants’ import quota return to full strength and the expected signing of a new face in the next week will now bolster the squad at just the right time, with the title race entering a crucial stage.
“I definitely feel I can come in and help cover for the loss of Doucet and McBride,” said Clarke ahead of tonight's trip to Dundee, which is followed by a return clash at the Odyssey on Saturday.
“They are two great players and they are big skates to fill, but I am going to do everything I can and in my power to be make sure I can help the team offensively and
hopefully I can be as good as they were for the team.
“Doug brought me in to be a scorer and once I get back and get out there I have to start putting the puck in the net, but that comes with the expectations that Doug has put on me and it's not too much pressure.”
Clarke delivered four goals and nine assists before his enforced absence from the team, giving him 13 points from 13 games. It's that kind of form that led to Christiansen endorsing his talents and it if can be maintained then there is every chance silverware will be coming to the Odyssey.
“This team wants to win a championship this year, they compete every year and the expectation level that was explained to me is that nothing less will be acceptable,” said Clarke.
“It would be nice to win a couple of championships.
“I know there is the league, the Challenge Cup and the Play-offs here.
“It would be great to finish in the spring with something.”
Having a tangible reward at the end of the season would, at least in some way, make up for Clarke's recent spell in the stands.
“It was never my intention to injure or harm anyone,” he said of the incident in Sheffield.
“Emotions were running high, it was a big game and I was frustrated and upset. I'd call it a lapse in judgement.
“I've refocused my energy on trying to put the puck into the net rather than getting caught up in things like that again,” said Clarke, whose wife joined him in Belfast for Christmas and the New Year.