The St. Louis, Missouri area has been a booming hockey bed for some time, going back much further than the Blues’ 2019 Stanley Cup Championship (but bringing the hardware to the Mound City certainly hasn’t hurt). Perhaps no NAHL team has gotten more support from St. Louis than the St. Cloud Norsemen who have four players who call it their hometown, including forward Andrew Clarke.
Clarke is a true product of the area as this is the first season he has played away from where he grew up. From 2017 until last season Clarke played in the St. Louis Blues AAA program and played high school hockey in Missouri all four years for Chaminade College Prep, where he scored 27-20-47 in 49 games including 14-11-25 in 14 games his senior year.
Moving to central Minnesota could have been a rougher adjustment, but having so many familiar faces with him from back home has helped. “I have known (Andrew) Knapp the longest, we played together when we were like eleven years old. Charlie (Wind) I’ve played with for the last three years or so and we’ve been pretty good buddies and then Carter (Bradley) we played together last year,” explains Clarke. “Me, Carter and Charlie were all on the same team last year (St. Louis Blues AAA 18U) which is a lot of fun.”
Andrew’s success with the Norsemen this season is even more impressive when you realize that he’s one of the youngest guys on the roster. Three of the four guys on the team that have more points than him are 2002 birth years but Clarke is an ‘04 and still cracks the Norsemen’s top five in scoring. There are just six guys on the Norsemen’s roster born 2004 or later and that means that Clarke has two more years of eligibility to play junior hockey. Wind and Knapp are also ‘04s and Bradely is an ‘03 so the imprint of St. Louis on this team may be seen for a few more years to come.
Clarke’s season didn’t get off to the start he was hoping for, as he contracted mononucleosis during the preseason and wasn’t able to make his NAHL debut until October 7th. “It definitely sucked because you want to be around your team when they’re forming friendships and you’re bonding the first month or so, so it was tough being away and having to watch,” Clarke confides. He also talks about how it was to get acclimated to playing his first NAHL games after the illness. “You have your first game jitters and you’re still getting back into shape. We had a lot of injuries at the time so it was definitely hard the first few games but I think after three games or so I felt pretty comfortable and it’s really increasing every game.”
Clarke has an impressive stat line of 7-11-18 in 25 games but he’s been on a tear as of late, scoring 12 points in his last 10 games. That included a hat trick on the road in Minot on January 5th in the Norsemen’s big 9-2 victory over the Minotauros and a three-point weekend in the Norsemen’s most recent two games vs. Austin. What’s the reasoning behind the recent output of offense? “Just trying to make the simple play, hang out more around the net and work for my teammates,” answers Clarke. “It was a little slower earlier in the year and the frustration and mindset was an issue, but now it’s just about keeping things simple.”
It comes as no surprise to St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz that number 22 is finding the scoresheet on a consistent basis these days. “I think the biggest thing is he’s working consistently, he’s doing the little things. He switched over from center to wing. He’s learned the position; I don’t think he’s played it a whole lot, but I think he’s embracing the small details that make you find success,” compliments Kautz. “You never can do it by yourself and he’s gotten help from hard working linemates and he’s putting himself in good positions. It’s nice to see him be rewarded with the points.”
Clarke is the first to point out he’s willing to play center or wing depending on the team’s needs. “I’ve played center a lot more throughout my life; at wing for the first few practices and games I was still getting used to it,” admits Clarke. “They both have their advantages; at center you feel like you’re around the puck all the time, you’re in every battle but as a winger you get sprung on more odd man rushes and stretch passes which is a lot of fun too.”
Kautz appreciates the flexibility Clarke demonstrates and putting the team’s needs above his own. “Two weekends ago in Miont we used him both at wing and center and that speaks volumes of who he is and what he’s doing. Just having that versatility to play both says a lot about the person you are and the willingness to do what the team needs, what the coach wants, without complaining or batting an eye about it,” Kautz praises. “It helps him understand the game a little more too.”
St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen has had his eye on Clarke for some time and is happy to see the progression he’s made within the organization. “Clarkie is obviously a very talented kid, we tendered him and we had a lot of high expectations and unfortunately he got mono right out of the gate so that set him back. It’s always tough to come back from stuff like that and there’s always a period of adjustment for kids coming from midget programs and high school programs,” Millen concedes. “He’s got talent, he’s got a lot of ability and I think he’s just starting to get his legs under him and starting to figure things out better and working a little harder so we expect things will just get better from here.”
Like many young athletes Clarke takes pride in where he’s from and can often be seen sporting attire or talking about his favorite teams from his home state; he’s an avid fan of the St. Louis Blues, St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs. “St. Louis in the last ten years or so has had a lot of hockey players come out of there,” Clarke says with pride. “Any way we can promote that market is good for the younger kids who wanna play college hockey or professional or whatever their dreams are.”
Clarke will take his hot streak back into a second home-and-home series with Austin this weekend as the Norsemen host the Bruins this Friday night. Puck drops at 7:00 and tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.