A chip off the old block

David Clarke watched his son, Morgan, picked for Nottingham Panthers in the Elite Series Draft (PHOTO: Panthers Images)

It’s fair to say there was one parent pleased as punch at seeing their son picked in the Elite Series Draft on Monday and if your dad happens to be David Clarke, it’s going to be with good reason.

Morgan Clarke-Pizzo was selected for Nottingham Panthers ahead of the competition, beginning next month and for the first time in his relatively short career, he’ll get the chance to impress on these shores.

And his old man certainly hopes he’ll take the opportunity when Panthers come up against Coventry Blaze, Sheffield Steelers and Manchester Storm.

“Any parent wants their kids to do well and fulfil their dreams so you support and help them as best you can on that journey,” Clarke said.

“Morgan always wanted to play at the highest level and get that opportunity.  He’s been in Canada at the Ontario Hockey Academy, had a good time, got his education then went to the States where he played in Syracuse and Utica.

“He signed to go to college in New England, the same college Jonathan Boxill went to, went there and everything stopped almost immediately, but he came home just after Thanksgiving once he knew the season wasn’t going ahead.

“Since then Morgan’s been focusing on that next step.  Not playing has been frustrating for everybody so he had the chance to put his name in the draft, which was appealing for him. I fully supported him and I’m pleased the Panthers have taken him on.

“It’s nice for him to be in Nottingham.  He basically grew up around the place and got a lot of friends and familiarity there.

“But to be successful in sport, you have to be versatile and since he was 16, he’s gone to North America and did what he over there, but he’s grateful for the opportunity and a chance for him to play and work alongside some established players and hopefully grow.”

Clarke-Pizzo was picked 34th overall by Panthers Director of Hockey, Guillaume Doucet in Monday’s draft for the ‘taxi squad’, for players who were put on standby in the event of injuries or any Covid-related withdrawals.

The Elite League announced those players would now be part of the full squad, making the 19-year-old chance of getting ice time in the Elite Series even more of a reality.

As well as the pride in seeing his son selected, this was extended at seeing other familiar faces also involved.

“As amazing as it was seeing Morgan get picked up, it was also rewarding to see 12 or 13 Clarke and Co alumni kids that we worked with over the summers through the year, going from young kids just wanting to play to players being drafted into teams,” he added.

“When I’m doing the hockey schools and you see Ollie Betteridge and Lewis Hook turning up to finding them playing alongside you, you start to think you’re getting a bit old.  

“Then you see these coaching kids themselves and it won’t be long before they get a similar feeling, which would be pretty funny.”

For Clarke, he was hugely impressed by the draft and the drama it created as fans get excited for the prospect of top level ice hockey again in the UK.

Clarke hung up his skates in 2018 (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

And he believes now is the ideal opportunity for the Elite League to take stock and look at a model that will create a pathway to allow young players to progress into the top flight.

“I thought the draft was amazing,” Clarke said. “You ask any established British hockey player bar Tony Hand, Colin Shields and Liam Kirk, we’d all love to go through that kind of process.

“Huge kudos to everyone who was involved.  It’s not the NHL, but people have been craving the opportunity to watch some hockey so just to be able to get that fix, albeit online, is a good thing.

“It’s going to be an exciting four or five weeks and helps to build up for the World Championships, especially for the British players who haven’t played a lot over the last year.

“For me, the Elite League is a four-line league and if you look across Europe, there are always opportunities for local players to have that chance to be around the top team and see what they make of themselves.

“I think this is an amazing opportunity for everybody to take a step back and see it’s an eight import league.  The dual nationals are being classed as British as they play for the national team so it’s a chance to see what that looks like and see what that brings to the table.

“When I think back to my development coming through, it was an eight import league that sat between the Super League and the EPL and I definitely think a lot of the GB players who played in that process.

“It’s a great opportunity for the players coming through to show what they can offer for the top league in the country and if they do well, it’ll force everyone to make a decision.”

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