Wendel L. Clark (born October 25, 1966) is a retired Canadian professional ice hockey player. He is perhaps best known for being a member of theToronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League (NHL), captaining the team from 1991 to 1994. During this time, he was often referred to as “Captain Crunch,” as he played a very physical and intense style of hockey.
A star junior hockey defenceman with the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, Clark was a member of Canada’s gold medal winning team at the 1985 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. Clark was converted to forward after he was selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft. His professional career lasted from 1985 until 2000, during which time he played for the Maple Leafs (during three separate stretches), Quebec Nordiques, New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.
Clark was known for his physical play and his offensive mind combined with scoring prowess. After his rookie season, he was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and finished third in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy. The serious back injury that Clark suffered during a game against the Chicago Blackhawks in 1987, when he was cross-checked into the crossbar of his own goal, hindered his progress as an elite NHL player. Nonetheless, he was a crowd favourite at Maple Leaf Gardens and won a place in the hearts of Leaf fans as he provided a spark during the latter part of the Harold Ballardera, considered the darkest period in the storied franchise’s history. He was named captain of the team for the 1991–92 season.
During the 1992–93 season, Clark’s second year captaining the team, the Leafs set team records in wins (44) and points (99) and also made the playoffs for the first time in three years. The Leafs had a memorable run to the Campbell Conference Finals, but after leading the best-of-seven series three games to two, they lost to the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings, who were coached by Clark’s cousin, Barry Melrose. Two career defining moments happened in this series for Clark: his defense of Doug Gilmour, resulting in a bruised and battered Marty McSorley, and his hat-trick in Game Six of the seven-game series.
“That series was probably the most excitement I saw around here,” proclaimed Clark, who had 20 points (10 goals and 10 assists) in his 21 games during the ’93 playoffs. “It was the furthest the Leafs had advanced in a long time, the team was coming together at the right time and everybody was doing their jobs.”
While Clark was known for grit and physical play (amassing 1,690 career penalty minutes), frequent injuries meant that he played only one full season. Nonetheless, he did manage an impressive 46 goals in 64 games for the Leafs during the 1993–94 season, playing on a line with Dave Andreychuk and Doug Gilmour. In the playoffs, the Leafs made a second consecutive trip to the Conference Finals, but fell 4–1 to the Vancouver Canucks, who were coached by future Leafs coach Pat Quinn.
Clark came into the league swinging, and refused to back down to the league’s toughest players, racking up 227 PIM during his rookie year. Clark quickly gained a reputation for hard-nosed hockey, showing little regard for his opponents or himself. His most famous check is perhaps his hit on unsuspecting St. Louis’ defenseman Bruce Bell. Coming from opposite corners, Clark caught Bell with his head down, and the devastating hit left Bell unconscious. Many legendary hits followed during his career, leading to his famous nickname, Captain Crunch.
Early in his career, Clark fought all the league’s toughest players, quickly gaining a reputation as a feared pugilist. Despite his size, Clark more than held his own against much larger opponents, showing a ferocity seldom matched throughout the league. Clark’s list of opponents is a relative who’s who of his era’s NHL tough-guys: Craig Berube, Bob Probert, Dave Brown, Rick Tocchet, Mark Tinordi,Garth Butcher, Marty McSorley, Mike Peluso, John Kordic and Brad McCrimmon.
Due to age, reputation and injuries, Clark’s fights became less frequent during latter part of his career. But despite the numerous injuries, Clark’s ability to change a game with a single bodycheck continued right up to his eventual retirement.
In June 1994, with his value at an all-time high, Clark was traded to the Quebec Nordiques in a multi-player deal which notably involved a young Mats Sundin. He was succeeded as Maple Leafs captain by Gilmour. Clark played the lockout-shortened 1994–95 NHL season in Quebec.
After the Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche, Clark became embroiled in a contract dispute with the team. As a result, shortly before the beginning of the 1995–96 campaign, he was sent to theNew York Islanders in a three-way trade that brought Claude Lemieux to Colorado and Steve Thomas to the New Jersey Devils. Clark played 58 games with the Islanders, but finished the season back in Toronto.
The Islanders received a first round pick from the Leafs (4th overall in ’97) which turned out to be Roberto Luongo.
In 1998 Clark signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he earned a spot on the North American All-Star team, and went on to score 28 goals in 65 games. Despite his success in Tampa Bay, he was dealt at the trade deadline to the Detroit Red Wings, where he finished the 1998–99 season. Clark signed with the Chicago Blackhawks later in 1999, but only appeared in 13 games with the team.
Upon returning to the Leafs in 2000, after being benched by the Blackhawks, Clark was not particularly effective for the remainder of the regular season, but he found his form for the Leafs’ playoff run. The love that Leaf fans had for their former captain could be seen when they gave a 1:30 standing ovation after Clark barreled into the New Jersey zone and hit the post in Game 1.  During Game 4, Clark assisted on the game-winning goal that gave the Leafs a 2–1 victory and tied the series with the Devils.
Clark is now employed by the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club as a community ambassador and public relations. He can be seen at virtually all Leaf home games, usually with his wife Denise and children. The Toronto Maple Leafs honoured the former captain by raising his legendary number 17 to the rafters on November 22, 2008, at the Air Canada Centre. He owns two restaurants, Wendel Clark’s Classic Grill and Sports Lounge, in both Oakville, Ontario and Vaughan, Ontario, and resides in King City.
Clark’s first cousin is ex-NHLer and ESPN commentator Barry Melrose; he is also a cousin of former Detroit Red Wing and Saskatoon Blade Joe Kocur. Clark’s younger brother Kerry Clark was also a professional hockey player; he was a career minor leaguer who is in the top 50 in minor league history in penalty minutes with 2812.