The day before the Montreal Canadiens fired their coach, the Carleton Place Canadians announced a complete and thorough housecleaning of their own.
The owner relieved the GM and coach of their duties, then sold the team.
Of course, the owner, GM and coach of the Junior A Canadians is the same person – Jason Clarke.
And his decision to step away from the organization after 12 seasons wasn’t made overnight.
In fact, Clarke accepted an offer to be the coach and GM of the USHL’s Lincoln Stars and was ready to move to Nebraska a year ago before the pandemic hit, shutting down borders and making it difficult to get a work visa.
Now he’s going to take another run at following his passion, his dream.
“I want to be a coach,” the 46-year-old Clarke said Wednesday. “I want to get to the next level. I think I’m doing myself a disservice if I don’t concentrate on my career and try to continue to get better as a coach.
“It’s selfish reasons, but I think selfish reasons for the right reasons.”
Purchasing the team from Clarke and his wife Jody is Brent Sullivan, a 31-year-old Carp native who was the associate coach of the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Sullivan will take over the Canadians on May 1, and he’ll have a tough act to follow.
Under Clarke’s rule, Carleton Place has been a Central Canada Hockey League powerhouse since 2014, winning the regular season title seven times. The won the Bogart Cup (CCHL champs) four times (2014-17). They won the Fred Page Cup (Eastern Canadian champs) three times (2014-2016), allowing them to advance to the National Jr. A Championship three consecutive years.
Yes, it’s been a great run for Clarke, but through it his whistle was almost lost among all his hats.
“The Carleton Place Jr. A Canadians are just not the Canadians. There’s a lot of other amenities with owning this team,” he said. “Over the years my time coaching the team has become 10 percent of my job and 90 percent of my job has been running the business.”
The timing is right for Clarke to make his move. His kids are young adults, focused on their own careers. Jody has a hair salon business she can continue anywhere.
All he’s missing is a job.
“I don’t have any leads at all,” said Clarke. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m rolling the dice. Hopefully teams will know I’m serious about my coaching career.
“I’ve sold the team and I won’t have any distractions, I’ll be able to fully concentrate on the task at hand if given the opportunity. Hopefully that will show a lot of the teams at the next level that I am serious.”
So should his willingness to pack up and relocate. There are no boundaries to Clarke’s “next level”, provided the opportunity is right.
“The OHL, the Q(MHL), the WHL, American League, ECHL, USHL … wherever,” he said. “I think the next level for me is being able to work for an organization where I know that I’m going to be able to put into a position where I can really learn and continue to grow. I just want to work with really experienced and good people.”
Since purchasing the Carleton Place Jr. B Legion Kings in 2006 and establishing the Canadians three years later, Clarke is naturally proud of his accomplishments.
The highlight, he says, was winning that first Bogart Cup and “proving all the naysayers wrong.”
In moving on, he wanted to make sure he left the Canadians in good hands.
Sullivan has a strong hockey background. He was a defenceman with the Brockville Braves from 2006-2008 then spent four years with the Sarnia Sting.
After a brief stint with the Carleton Ravens in 2012-13, he turned his attention to coaching.
Last season was his fifth on the Gee-Gees staff.
Said Clarke: “I was raised in Carleton Place, I will retire in Carleton Place and I will die in Carleton Place. I think it’s really important that we found the right person and the right group to be able to do the right things in the community and continue the winning traditions.
“I think Brent’s got the hockey experience, he’s played in our league, he’s played in the OHL, he’s coached a really good winning organization, and he’s young. He’s got a great personality, he’s got lots of energy, he just got married so he doesn’t have any kids … I think he’s really eager in wanting to work hard and continue to build the program.
“That was the deciding factor for my wife and I. He’s just a really good guy.”
Clarke was a couple of years younger than Sullivan age when he started coaching.
His first job as a bench boss was with the Ottawa Jr. Senators. His GM was the legendary Archie Mulligan.
“I was able to work under Archie for three years … he was a huge mentor for me,” said Clarke. “I wouldn’t be where I am right now without his tutelage, that’s for sure.”
Interesting tie-in here with the Montreal Canadiens coach fired Wednesday – Claude Julien’s first coaching job was with the 1993-94 Ottawa Jr. Senators.