With the NHL lockout firmly in place and both sides entrenched for what may be a long, drawn out battle, we’re taking this opportunity to explore the musical side of the National Hockey League. Each week, we’ll see what happens when hockey and music collide.
Join us as we Rock Out for the Lockout.
The Rheostatics – “The Ballad of Wendel Clark”
The Rheostatics were a critically-acclaimed Canadian indie band during the ‘80s and ‘90s with limited commercial success. Only one of their songs cracked the Top 40: 1995’s “Claire”. It was their sense of being Canadian – and their willingness to embrace it – that really resonated with their audience. Instead of trying to sound like bands from New York, Los Angeles, or London, the Rheostatics remained true to their Ontario roots. Sometimes, that meant wildly diverse sounds on the same album, but they made it work through their eleven albums and their near-thirty-year career.
At their peak, they released two albums – 1991’s Melville and 1992’s Whale Music – that still rank among some of the top-reviewed Canadian records. “They were trailblazers writing songs for this new generation and doing it without being cornball or country,” said radio host Dave Bookman in an interview with the Toronto Star. The group crossed paths with plenty of other legendary Canadian bands during that time, either in studio or on the road, including the Tragically Hip, Barenaked Ladies, and Rush.
Their first success, though, came a few years earlier, when they released their 1987 ode to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ star player and eventual captain:
Wendel was a man with a stick in his hands
Who learned how to play in Kelvington, S-A-S-K.
You’ll wish that you had died,
When Wendel has your hide,
‘Cause he does it the Canadian way.
Clark would continue to do it ‘the Canadian way’ though his physical style of play would result in injuries that hampered his playing time. After 1986-87, Clark never again played a complete season; his best was 65 games (in 1996-97 with Toronto and 1998-99 with Tampa). After setting career highs with the Leafs in 1993-94, Clark was dealt to the Quebec Nordiques for Mats Sundin. A contract issue with the now-relocated Colorado Avalanche prompted his trade to the Islanders. They in turn sent him back to Toronto midway through the following season. (In return, Toronto sent the Isles the draft pick that would eventually become Roberto Luongo.)
After two more years in Ontario, Clark bounced around the league. He signed as with the Lightning and later spent time with the Red Wings and Blackhawks before returning to the Leafs in 2000 to finish his career. He retired the same way he came into the league, as a Toronto Maple Leaf.
Though Rheostatics founding member Dave Bidini still loves the game, he’s no longer singing about hockey. He’s moved on to writing. If you stumble across his book, Tropic of Hockey: My Search for the Game in Unlikely Places, give it a read. Here’s an excerpt about Wendel:
Wendel Clark was the first player to grab my imagination. His debut game, goal, and fight felt like my own. He wore sweater number 17 – which numerologists say represents immortality – and played with a reckless drive not seen since Tiger Williams, belying the pugilist stereotype with a touch like crushed velvet and a wrist shot that flew at the net with the grace of a sylph riding the air.
Safe to say Dave was a pretty big fan of doing it the Canadian way (as well as a fan of sylphs, apparently). Here’s one more shot of Wendel, showing ‘em how it’s done in the Great White North: