Clarke family enjoys midseason reunion full of competition at AHL All-Star Classic

For a hockey parent, having the opportunity to watch your child participate in an All-Star weekend would generally be a memorable and potentially surreal experience.

But most would never even dream about getting the opportunity to watch two of their kids showcasing their skills on the ice at the same time against each other in a best-on-best format. That’s the experience Chris and Trish Clarke had this week in San Jose watching their sons Graeme and Brandt represent the Utica Comets and Ontario Reign at the AHL All-Star Classic.

“We certainly wouldn’t miss an opportunity like this and it is pretty special,” Chris said after watching the two battle in Game 1 of Monday’s 3-on-3 challenge event. “It would be special if just one of them were here but having them participate in it together really adds another layer to it. Kind of a once-in-a-lifetime event, really.”

The family was together on both Sunday for the league’s Skill Competition, as well as the following day on Monday.

“We’ve actually gotten to spend a lot of time with our sons, so this was really lucky,” Trish added. “It’s been really nice.”

But the event in California wasn’t even the first time they’ve traveled to see their sons play this season. Just over a month ago, both were recalled by their NHL affiliates on the same day, Jan. 3.

Then one morning a few days later on Jan. 6, they found out Graeme would be making his debut in New Jersey for the Devils that night against the Vancouver Canucks. The Clarkes immediately decided to drive south from their home in the Ottawa area to attend the game.

One problem: there was a snowstorm making its way across the east coast. What is normally a seven-hour drive ended up taking a lot longer.

However, while they were on the road, they got more good news. Brandt would be entering the lineup for the LA Kings in Washington against the Capitals the following evening. So rather than drive back north through the blizzard, they extended the trip and headed south to D.C.

With both of their sons on the cusp of cracking NHL rosters at the same time, there’s been no shortage of excitement for the family this season.

Graeme, now in his fourth professional season in the Devils organization, has scored 34 points in 40 games with the AHL-Utica on an even 17 goals and 17 assists, which is on pace to potentially top his previous career-high of 58 points he set last season with 25 goals and 33 assists in 68 games for the Comets.

“It’s been a good year,” said the elder Clarke son, who is 22 years of age. “I think you always just want to keep getting better and developing. Our team does a good job of that and the coaching staff there is helping me a lot.”

Brandt is two years younger in age, 20, but has already played 15 games in his NHL career since the Kings drafted him with the eighth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. This season he’s been a star in Ontario, scoring 33 points in 32 games with the Reign on eight goals and 25 assists.

With the family spread out all over North America for most of the year, these rare moments they’re all together in the same place have been pretty special.

“I think that’s what makes it so fun,” Graeme said. “This is a fun event to come to in general and then to see [Brandt] on the other side there was great. I don’t see him too much during the year so to come here, our parents are here, and then see him just made it a really cool experience.”

The AHL leaned into the family rivalry, setting the Clarke brothers against each other as much as possible over the two days. The opening event of the Skills Competition, the Puck Control Relay, included a final heat with the two matched up against each other in a one-on-one race that Brandt won in a close finish.

Later during the Accuracy Shooting event, the two participated one after another, both hitting all four targets placed in the net. Brandt got the victorious nod over his brother and the rest of the All-Stars as well, becoming just the fifth player in league history to go 4-for-4 to take home the trophy.

Finally, the two divisions they represent, the North and Pacific, faced off in the first round-robin game of the 3-on-3 Challenge Monday night. Neither brother emerged with any bragging rights from the head-to-head game which finished in a 1-1 tie that included a missed attempt by Brandt in the second round of a shootout, but the younger Clarke got the last laugh overall when the Pacific won the championship game over the Atlantic Division by a 3-2 score on a late goal by Abbotsford’s Arshdeep Bains.

“It’s funny they made that the first game,” Brandt said. “I’m so happy that Graeme’s here. It was awesome I got to share this with him and even cooler that I got to play against him because we don’t play out of our division so actually getting to play against him was a treat.”

For Chris and Trish, looking on while their sons compete is something they’ve been watching ever since they were much younger. In this instance, they doubled their chances of having one of their kids win.

“They’ve always been so close together,” Chris said. “In a way, it’s not surprising. “One of the expressions we use all the time with all our kids is just make it fun so if they’re having fun, it doesn’t really matter who wins at an event like this.”

Graeme, who is almost two years older than Brandt, added that it felt normal to compete against his brother because they’ve been doing it for as long as he can remember.

“We’ve been competing since we were kids in everything we do,” Graeme said. “Then to come here and kind of do that same thing was fun and we’re going continue to do that.”

He grew up watching his younger brother mimic whatever he was doing and now, with Brandt having completed his junior career, it happens to be professional hockey.

“To see him do stuff with LA this year, he’s been he’s been up and down and doing well with them, and then just him having a great season with the Reign is really good for his development,” Graeme said. You see how many minutes he gets there, it’s really fun to watch and I think it’s important for him. He’s developing so much there that it’s going to carry into his game in LA and I think you’ve already seen that when he’s gone up. He’s there with confidence because he’s playing with confidence down there so it’s been a good year all around with both teams for him.”

The next step is for the two brothers to play an NHL game against each other, another milestone that the rest of the family surely won’t miss.

“Yeah, that’ll be circled on the calendar,” Graeme said. “Hopefully that happens one day, that’d be a dream come true.”

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