Raised in Springdale, Newfoundland, Abby Clarke has become one of the province’s most revered female hockey figures, bringing an era of triumph to Fredericton’s St. Thomas University.
With the 2010s marking a renaissance for star players hailing from Atlantic Canada, a tremendously talented figure was prominent between the pipes. Propelling the program into an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) power, Clarke combined the essence of sportsmanship and perseverance into a sterling career defined by both, achievement and a proud standing as a hockey humanitarian.
Undeniably, Clarke’s greatest season with the St. Thomas Tommies was 2018-19, also her senior season. Among goaltenders who logged at least 10 games played in 2018-19, Clarke was in the top two nationally in three major statistical metrics, including wins (17), goals against average (1.50) and save percentage (.943). Also recording 576 saves, Clarke’s fifth and final season ended in storybook fashion, garnering a remarkable amount of accolades and honors.
From the outset, she was recognized as the Tommies women’s ice hockey program’s MVP. Following this milestone, Clarke earned the University’s Female Athlete of the Year Award, complemented by the AUS James Bayer Scholarship Award. Also honored as a U SPORTS Second Team All-Star, the haul of hockey hardware served as a sensational validation of her value to the program and the University’s varsity sports landscape.
Adding luster to this remarkable series of achievements was the fact that Clarke was not the only member of the Tommies women’s hockey program to gain revered recognition. Peter Murphy earned the AUS Coach of the Year Award, marking the first time that a member of the Tommies’ coaching staff earned the honor.
Emily Oleksuk, who also served as team captain and led the team with 23 assists and 34 points gained the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Lauren Henman, whose 18 goals paced the Tommies, plus Alex Woods gained spots on the AUS First-Team All-Stars. As a side note, Clarke and Henman were part of a Senior Class featuring eight players, joined by Taylor Cook, Becky Conner, Stephanie Ford, Alisha Gilbert, Paige Jackson and Kristina Kocsis.
“It is an honour to be recognized by your teammates, university and conference. It was an amazing way to end my five years at St. Thomas as an athlete and I am very humbled to have received these awards.”
Clarke’s brilliance was strongly evident during the month of November 2018. With the nationally ranked Tommies enjoying a superlative 10-game winning streak, Clarke’s efforts during the month involved a sparkling mark of 7-0-0, enhanced brilliantly by a phenomenal 1.00 Goals Against Average and a solid .960 save percentage. Recognized by the University with its Coastal Graphics Athlete of the Month Award for November, it foreshadowed the season to come.
Earning U SPORTS National Female Athlete of the Week honors for the week of January 9, 2019, Clarke’s 12th and 13th wins of the season were nothing short of brilliant. With a cumulative total of 76 saves, Clarke was the key factor in the Tommies’ dispatching the Saint Mary’s Huskies and the UPEI Panthers.
Allowing merely one goal versus Saint Mary’s, Clarke managed an even greater performance against UPEI. Highlighted by a scintillating 44-save performance, logging her fifth shutout of the season, Clarke fittingly earned the Subway Player of the Game nod.
.@STUWH's Abby Clarke was named the @SubwayAtlantic Player of the Game in game one of the best-of-three semi-final series vs @SMUHuskies.
Clarke made 29 saves in the Tommies' 4-3 loss. pic.twitter.com/vJoKXrZk2F
— STU Tommies (@TommiesSTU) February 22, 2018
Following such a wondrous weekend, Clarke’s GAA dipped to 1.05, while her save percentage was a superb .961. Taking into account that both numbers ranked top in the nation, while her 13th win also paced all backstops nationally, it marked a hallowed highlight that equally signified one of the best goaltending performances in program history.
Statistically, Clarke’s brilliance was best measured by the fact that she was ranked among the top goaltenders on a national scale. Attributing this great success to the support system in place at the Grant-Harvey Centre, such sentiment reflects more than a commendable humility, but a team-first outlook,
“I could not have done it without the constant support I get at the rink. From my teammates pushing me to be my best everyday to my coaches taking the time to teach me and keep me sharp. As a team we also have a lot of fun and I think the more fun you have the more successful you will be.”
History proved to be the predominant theme for a highly accomplished Clarke. In addition to the Tommies capturing the regular season title in the highly competitive AUS conference, the feeling of momentum and confidence continued into the postseason. Capturing the AUS Tournament Crown, an unprecedented first in program history marked an incredible feat that accentuated Clarke’s importance in Tommies lore.
Qualifying for the U SPORTS women’s ice hockey national championships, it marked a heroic denouement that provided Clarke with an experience that brought perfect closure to five fantastic seasons in Tommies colors. Although Nationals encompassed plenty of emotion for Clarke, as it signified the final chapter of her Tommies tenure, the feeling of achievement was unmistakable,
“To win an AUS title with this program for the first time ever is something I will never forget and I’m honoured to have been able to be a part of it. I still struggle to find the words to describe it, it was surreal.
Nationals was a sentimental time for me personally, as I knew my university career was coming to an end. It did not go the way we wanted, but I could not have been more proud of how we carried ourselves as a team.”
While the privilege of competing at Nationals marks a pinnacle in any player’s career, Clarke’s collection of fond memories with the Tommies ranges in the numerous. Undeniably, the glory of the AUS title stands as the peak. Although the feat was prologue, allowing the Tommies to enter Nationals as conference champions, the path taken defined a journey that represented a proverbial ‘game-changer’ for Clarke.
With the Grant-Harvey Centre filled to capacity, the Tommies, finishing the regular season with a 22-5-1 mark served as host for the AUS conference championship finals. Of note, the three-game final versus the St. Francis Xavier X-Women not only featured the top two teams in the Conference, but its two finest goaltenders. Opposing X-Women backstop Carley Molnar, who ranked among the top three in goaltending statistics, it was Molnar who won the first game, blanking the Tommies by a 4-0 margin.
Bouncing back, the Tommies captured the next two games, both won by merely one goal. Game two saw Alisha Gilbert record the game-winner in a 4-3 final, as Clarke recorded 25 saves. The third game would see Clarke assemble, quite possibly, her finest performance, Recording 39 saves, as Danielle Ring assisted on Lauren Legault’s game-winner, the 2-1 final marked a proud milestone for all in Tommies colours, punching their ticket to the U SPORTS National Championships.
From Clarke’s perspective, the raucous roar from the ecstatic home crowd, while the buzzer saw an outflow of players vacating the Tommies bench, a gathering of white jerseys quickly flooding Clarke’s crease, the feeling of family and belonging that can define any team culture, reached an impeccable climax. With an unprecedented season of sweat and sacrifice swelled up towards this magical day, one which culminated with Clarke earning celebrated recognition as Tournament MVP.
“There are so many moments, but I think seeing the entire arena on their feet and hearing the final buzzer and seeing my team flying off the bench towards me when we won the AUS final takes the cake.
I will miss the little things that I think we as university athletes sometimes take for granted. The 7 AM workouts, the team building weekends, and just being able to go to the rink and see 22 of your best friends everyday.”
Just as important as Clarke’s achievements in the Tommies paraphernalia was the remarkable leadership displayed through a series of commendable efforts. In addition to significant volunteer work, including the collection of food bank donations, plus reading to students in elementary schools, plus instruction with younger players, including at the Brendan Oretto Hockey Camp, it embodies the essence of what Clarke enjoys most about being part of the game.
From providing friendship to instilling the confidence in the hopes and dreams of aspiring players, Clarke’s commendable efforts represented a treasured opportunity to give back to the game and community that meant so much to her during such a remarkable chapter of her hockey sojourn. With a current focus on social work, that sense of empathy and teamwork not only enrich her post-university occupation, but it stands proudly as a tribute to her fantastic seasons in the Tommies jersey, a positive experience that not only transformed her into a revered student-athlete and role model, but one whose achievements shall be treasured throughout the years to follow,
“When it comes to giving back to the hockey community, for me it is seeing them get excited about completing small goals and having fun playing the game. Being able to be a part of that is special to me.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Featured image by SRM Photography