Lisa Clark only has one thing to ask of her three sons whenever they lace up their skates for a hockey practice or game.
“You better be the fastest kid on the ice.”
It’s what she tells Emerson, now a minor-pro winger recently called up to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, who’s known more for his toughness. Same goes for Everett, a crafty forward with the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, and Christian, a member of the Whitby Wildcats minor midget AAA team and a projected fourth- to sixth-round OHL draft pick this spring.
That one sentence might seem like a lofty order, an unfair expectation from a passionate hockey mom. To Clark, it’s anything but.
After all, she taught them how to skate and later learned a thing or two about being quick off the ice, darting from rink to rink when she became a single mother.
Growing up in Oshawa, Ont., Clark was a promising figure skater before she had to quit when she was 19 because of nagging shin splints. She decided to teach figure skating instead.
Lesson plans were altered slightly when she got married, moved to nearby Whitby and began having children. Her first child was a daughter, Tanese, who opted for soccer and tennis. But three boys followed and they gravitated towards lacrosse and, of course, hockey.
Clark was all for it – under one condition.
“The best part of hockey, the most important part of hockey, is being able to skate,” she said. “If you can’t skate, you can’t play. You’re never going to be any good. If I can teach you to be the fastest guy out there and the strongest guy on your feet, that’s what’s going to make your game.”
She would teach them how to skate, alright.
Clark put each boy on skates when he was four-and-a-half years old. Starting with Emerson, she would take them to public skating lessons and pull them aside for about 15 minutes and show them edgework and balance drills. This was a regular routine until they were six.
“The main thing is she’s my mom and I have to listen to her,” said Emerson, 23, also a two-time national junior lacrosse champion and a draft pick of the NLL’s Toronto Rock. “Thank god I did. She knows what she’s doing.”
“I remember enjoying it a lot,” Everett added. “Most people like their dads teaching them how to skate, but for the most part it was really great. I got to spend time with my mom.”
By the time Everett hit the ice, others started noticing.
“He was the fastest little thing on two feet,” Clark said.
During a skating session, a parent picked Emerson out of a group of about 30 kids and asked Clark who taught him. A few parents wanted Clark to help their sons. She obliged, pulling them aside during public lessons.
It was mostly something to keep her busy. Clark’s main job was that of a stay-at-home mom and the kids’ No. 1 fan.
But things changed as Clark left her husband during the 2007-08 hockey season. She had three boys playing AAA hockey – Emerson in minor midget, Everett in peewee and Christian in novice – and AAA hockey isn’t cheap.
“When I left him, I pretty much did it all on my own after that,” she said.
Clark really committed to booking private lessons to grow her business, travelling to far-flung rinks across southern Ontario, mostly in the Greater Toronto Area. As Emerson moved on to the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and Everett and Christian got older, watching their games became a challenge. If she found time to drive them, her car essentially turned into a shuttle service.
She would – and still does – try to schedule lessons at times and places close to Everett’s and Christian’s games whenever possible.
“She was running three kids to hockey when she could and she was working almost every day teaching,” Everett said. “She did an amazing job. She was the ultimate hockey mom.”
“If I didn’t have the help of the other parents, there was no way I could have done this,” Clark added. “No way.”
Missing her sons’ games was tough on Clark, but she loved teaching others.
Her big break came four years ago when Orr Hockey Group agent Jeff Jackson saw Everett play a minor midget game. Jackson was blown away by Everett’s skating and that, at just 5-foot-8, he could hit like a freight train.
Jackson signed Everett as a client for his tenacity. He sent other clients to Clark so she could help them with their skating.
Clark has been dating London Knights director of scouting Ken Hornick for three years and has a growing number of OHL regulars in her stable.
She’s worked with a slew of OHLers, including New Jersey Devils prospect Ben Thomson, Ottawa Senators farmhand Ben Harpur and Barrie Colts’ Justin Scott.
Classes are conducted without sticks as Clark ensures pupils are keeping their upper bodies silent, engaging their cores and driving their legs.
“Having speed is obviously a huge thing in hockey,” Emerson said. “I’m glad I do have that from her.”
Emerson, Everett and Christian still get tune-ups from their mother in the offseason. For them it’s a great way to spend time with her while improving , too.
“I always thought of it as a bonus because she was such a great figure skater,” said Everett, who turned 20 in January and has 33 points in 55 games this season. “It gave me and my brothers an extra advantage. I’ve never had any problems with it, even now.”
Of course, she’s a tough critic when it comes to their movements on the ice.
The message is as clear and consistent as ever.
“If there’s one thing I’m asking of you is when you do the skating drills I don’t just want you to beat someone, I want you to be three feet ahead of them,” Clark said. “That shows me you’re the fastest kid on the ice.”