WATERTOWN — A familiar face and former rival has returned to the Watertown Wolves as Brent Clarke has been named as head coach, the team announced Thursday.
While leaving the rival Elmira Enforcers, whom he coached the past two seasons, Clarke is back with the Wolves. He has strong ties to the north country, already living here with his family.
“I’ve always enjoyed my time in Watertown, so this was a natural fit,” Clarke said.
Clarke coached the Wolves in their first season in 2014-15, guiding the team to the Federal Hockey League championship.
“Absolutely, 2015 was a good year, our inaugural season,” Clarke, 33, said. “I thought we had a great team, and we were fortunate enough to win a championship in our first year. And then they won it again two years later — and we’re hoping to win it again here.”
The announcement comes three weeks after the team announced that Andreas Johansson had purchased a majority stake in the Wolves.
“I got the call on Tuesday night,” Clarke said. “Absolutely, it happened quick and I’m excited to be back behind the bench here.”
Johansson said that Clarke was at the top of his list of potential coaching candidates for the Wolves.
“I’m convinced that we got the right guy,” Johansson said. “I spent the last four weeks almost interviewing guys and doing my research, and I was looking for somebody who was familiar with the league who had access to quality players. And probably more than anything a dedication to the sport and a dedication to winning.”
Paul MacLean, a former assistant coach for Clarke in Elmira in 2018-19, the Enforcers’ first in the league, coached the Wolves this past season.
Watertown occupied third place in the FPHL when the league canceled its season in March with three weeks remaining, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s crazy with all the stuff going on in the world right now,” Clarke said. “Hockey is probably the last thing on everybody’s mind right now, you’re just trying to be safe.”
The Wolves played a game at Elmira on March 12, which proved to be the last pro hockey game played this year before the season was later canceled.
Watertown and Elmira were on course to meet in the league playoffs for the second consecutive year.
“At the end of the season, we were coming on strong, a lot of wins at the end, 10 in a row in Elmira,” Clarke said. “We probably would have played Watertown in the first round. It actually sucks that we couldn’t finish the season the way we wanted to. Now we just have to move on.”
Clarke played the with Watertown Privateers in their last season in the league in 2013-14, taking over as player/coach late in the season.
After 2014-15, the Wolves’ franchise was forced to take a season off in 2015-16 because of renovations at Watertown Municipal Arena.
After Clarke served as player/coach with the Danville Dashers that season, he was hired by the then-expansion Elmira Enforcers in 2018, guiding the team to the playoffs.
“I’ve matured and I think I only got suspended one time last year,” Clarke said. “Just growing as a coach in all areas, and I just want to be a guy that players want to play for and want to come in and play their best for us.”
The Enforcers defeated the Wolves in the first round of the league playoffs in 2018 before losing to Carolina in the championship series.
“It was heated, that’s for sure and both seasons,” Clarke said. “Like last season and the year before, every time it was like the Leafs playing the Montreal Canadiens. It was good, exciting hockey to watch.”
Clarke, an Ontario native, lives in the Watertown area with his wife, Marah, who grew up in Alexandria Bay, and their two children.
“I’m extremely excited,” Clarke said. “On a personal level, I get to be home with my wife and kids. He’ll get to come to all the Watertown Wolves games and be a little Wolves fan, he (Bennett) loves (the team mascot) Blizzard. All around, I think this is going to be an exciting time for me and my family.”
Clarke is also impressed with the plans Johansson has for the franchise.
“I think he’s going to bring some cool ideas, new ideas to the town and the fans,” Clarke said of Johansson. “They’re going to be excited with what they see and excited with the product that we bring. I think he’s going to be a different-style owner, being on the younger side, like a new era here. So it’s exciting stuff for both of us, actually.”
Clarke is one of four head coaches in Watertown franchise history. Phil Esposito coached the team in the 2016-17 season and Trevor Karasiewicz coached the team the next two seasons, with Karasiewicz guiding the Wolves to the FHL title in 2018.
“I think the fans here, they deserve a winning hockey team,” Johansson added. “And bringing a coach in of Clarke’s caliber is the first piece of the puzzle to allow us to attract the players that we need to take that next step.”