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Staff Photo / Brian Yauger Phantoms defenseman Hubert Clarke participates in the team’s camp last week at Printscape Arena in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

Youngstown is a long way from Norway House, Manitoba, but that’s no problem for Phantoms’ Phase II Draft selection Hubert Clarke.

Not much of a homebody, Clarke is looking forward to the opportunity to play at the Covelli Center going into the new season.

“I’m just really excited to play at that level of hockey,” he said. “I know it’s very good. It’s a very good junior competition, one of the best. Obviously, I’m just excited to see how the season goes, and I’m just really excited to play there next season.”

Comparing his game to New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba, Clarke will quickly capture fans’ attention with his raw, physical play.

But he’s not just a bruiser from the back end.

Clarke is another in a growing line of physical yet skilled blueliners for the Phantoms.

“He’s very mobile, he has a good shot, moves pucks, joins the rush. He is really what we are looking for,” Phantoms coach Ryan Ward said. “He’s a tough, tough player. He is tough. Just his willingness to come here and his eagerness to come to Youngstown and play for the Phantoms of Norwegian House. That just shows, I think, where our organization is and where we’re going, what we’re building and super excited to have him here. And so far he’s been a great teammate. The boys love him and I’m happy to see him in a Phantoms jersey.”

Clarke started his hockey career as a goaltender, but felt like he was too quiet in the net. Having a good team in front of him accentuated that, so he wanted a change.

After taking on defense in a tournament and enjoying it, the change became permanent.

“I used to be a kid who wanted to be active and sweat a lot. When I was younger my team was a really good team so I didn’t really have to move (much in the net),” said Clarke. “So one day I said to my parents, ‘Hey, I want to start sweating like them, and I want to be a (skater).’ The next tournament I had, I got it (to play defense) and I really enjoyed it, and found myself being pretty good at hockey for the first time, so I stuck with it and I’m here now.

In just a few years since changing positions, Clarke has improved dramatically, and that growth is something Ward is excited about.

“It’s amazing to see that transformation and hear his story,” Ward said. “It’s not something that happens very often and the fact that he’s as good as he is so soon after making a position change is crazy.”

Clarke’s main goal this year is to see as much ice as possible.

“I’m just hoping to play a good few games,” Clarke said. “I’m open to developing and getting my game a lot better for my second year in Youngstown and hopefully making it to the NCAA in three years. That’s my main goal coming to Youngstown.

Originally intended to follow the WHL route established by the Prince Albert (Saskatchewan) Raiders, Clarke changed course, believing the NCAA route might be the better path.

Once the offers came in, Clarke opted to commit to Western Michigan.

“Before Christmas, I wanted to go to the WHL, and then I did some research on the NCAA, and I looked at all the players I came out of the NCAA, and that’s when I got interested in the NCAA,” Clarke said. “I knew the Michigan teams were really good. Of course, I researched all the teams in Michigan, and then looked at Western Michigan, and I was just really interested in going there. Then one day I got a text from them and they wanted to start talking, and I just committed to it (in May).

Clarke and the Phantoms open the regular season in Cranberry, Pennsylvania as part of the USHL Fall Classic. Youngstown opens at home against Lincoln on October 18.

Do you have an interesting story? Contact Brian Yauger via email at [email protected]. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @_brianyauger.

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