by Lori Bennett
It’s Come Home Year in Newfoundland and Labrador. After a long and arduous pandemic, it’s finally time to welcome ex-patriots home, along with some tourists longing to experience some of that east coast magic. To listen to the advertisements, one is left wondering why anyone would ever choose to leave this place.
For some Newfoundlanders, following a dream is an automatic decision to leave home. There will come a time when a young person reaches a decision point – they can choose to leave home, or the dream ends. A perfect example of this is when your dream is to become a professional hockey player. I spoke with Newfoundland’s own Clarke Bishop of the Ottawa Senators organization to discuss his experience with leaving home to pursue his hockey dream.
Bishop, 26, hails from St. John’s. He was born and played his early developmental hockey there at the Triple A level. At 16 years of age, Clark was good enough to seriously pursue a pro hockey career. He was drafted by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, which meant he had to take the next step away from home.
Clark said he packed his bags and his parents left him at the St. John’s airport to board a flight to Nova Scotia. The Screaming Eagles camp was held at the Cape Breton University Campus that year, so he went directly to the campus dorms to stay with other young men like himself. Once camp was over, he moved in with his first billet family, where he would stay for two years. He moved into a second billet home for the next two years of his career in Cape Breton.
“Obviously, at a young age like that, leaving home for the first time was a little nerve-wracking. I think I could speak for a lot of young kids who have gone through the same thing. But I think it’s just something you get used to. I’m on my ninth or tenth year away from home now so it’s getting to be a pretty normal thing and it’s no problem. It’s a lot of different changes, and it’s just something that you adapt to over time.”
In 2014, Clark Bishop was drafted at the NHL Amateur Draft, in the fifth round at 127th overall, by the Carolina Hurricanes. He would finish his four-year stay in Cape Breton before heading to North Carolina. It’s one thing to leave Newfoundland for Cape Breton, and quite another to head to a city whose population is greater than that of your entire home province.
“Through that three- or four-year span that I was there, there were a lot of different changes. By that time, you know, moving around and living on my own was kind of normal. But once I moved down there it was the first time that I was actually living on my own.” Clark had gone from living with his parents, to living with a billet family, to living alone in an apartment in Charlotte, a metropolitan area with a population of just under three million. He said the veteran players helped him adjust and that they “kind of teach you the way a little bit so you can learn some things from them.”
Clark split his time in the Hurricanes organization between the Hurricanes in Raleigh and their AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers. He said it was a big change to live in another country, but that he had nothing bad to say about his time in the Southeastern United States. Bishop spent most of his time in Charlotte and said it’s a great city. He also said he was especially appreciative of the weather, and we both chuckled at the comment recalling our years living through the winds and weather of our home province.
Bishop played 25 games at the NHL level during his time in the Hurricanes organization and won the Calder Cup playing with the Checkers. Then in January of 2021, in a season delayed due to COVID-19, he was traded to the Ottawa Senators. Clarke said it was the first time in his career, through junior and pro, that he was traded. He said the change of scenery was good for him, and it is nice to be a little closer to home. His girlfriend is from New Brunswick, within driving distance of Eastern Ontario, and it’s easier for family to come see him. His parents had the opportunity to come and watch him play earlier this season, and it was their first time seeing him play since the Calder Cup in 2019. Travel restrictions due to COVID-19 made that connection challenging.
As in the Hurricanes organization, he has split his time between Ottawa and their AHL affiliate in Belleville. He has played 22 games in Ottawa and recently competed in the AHL playoffs with Belleville. It was a game day when we spoke, and he was in the midst of his game day routine when he took the time to speak with me. The Senators lost that night and were eliminated from the playoffs.
Clark said he was most recently in Newfoundland last summer for a family wedding, and that he intends to return this summer and spend a little more time. I asked him what he missed the most about being away from the island.
“I think a lot of people would say you miss the people and how friendly they are. You know, it’s really a hockey community back home and just getting to see my friends I don’t see very often and family members and to hang out with them.” He said he also misses the scenery and how much there is to do outdoors when the weather is good. Clark and his girlfriend were able to hike the East Coast trails and visit Gros Morne National Park during the pandemic, and he looks forward to seeing and doing more of those things that you sometimes don’t do when you live there.
I asked Clark if he had any advice for young players from Newfoundland and Labrador who may be draft-eligible and considering leaving home to play junior hockey. “You really just got to have fun with it, and just kind of have a straight mind. But also, don’t be afraid to speak up if anything goes wrong while you’re away. I mean, I know that I didn’t have my parents with me and was basically moving in with strangers. So sometimes, you know, you’re a little uncomfortable. But you know, I think if you ever need anything you need to speak up. And you know, just have fun with it. It’s an experience, but you just got to know that once you get used to it, everything will be better.”
Clark Bishop is living out his dream of playing professional hockey, a dream that was only possible by leaving home. He is one of many Newfoundlanders who are finding success away from home. Like many others, he will find his way back this summer to enjoy the treasures of Newfoundland and Labrador, and perhaps even take in some Come Home Year festivities.