Hockey players feel pressure on a daily basis. They face the pressure to succeed, to live up to expectations, and to be role models for those who aspire to do what they do – among other things. And that’s just what they deal with in the game.
Away from the ice, these players have separate responsibilities – as friends, brothers, fathers, sons, husbands. It can be difficult to balance all of those responsibilities, especially when their careers have them spending plenty of time away from home over the course of a season.
Bobby Clarke, arguably one of the most famous Flyers, is a husband and a father of four. His oldest daughter, Jody, was born in the fall of 1973, at the start of her father’s 5th year with the team – and the start of the Flyers’ first Stanley Cup-winning season.
As can be expected, hockey kept Clarke, by then the Flyers’ captain, from spending much time with his family when his children were growing up.
“It was the only thing I knew, him not being around very much,” Jody says. “And there are four kids in the family, so his time was spread pretty thin.”
At the time, a number of Clarke’s teammates also had young children, and they spent a lot of time together while their fathers were away. Most of Jody’s memories of her father’s playing career had nothing to do with watching him play, but are of playing with the other players’ kids in the locker room or private rooms at the Spectrum.
Jody is still close to some of those kids she grew up around. To this day, Brandi Leach, daughter of former Flyers winger Reggie, is her best friend.
“There’s a bond, I think, with all of the alumni kids. You can go years without seeing them, and then reconnect so easily when you do run into one another. We share a bond from growing up around the rink that keeps us connected on some level.”
When Jody was younger, the organization planned trips for the team’s families. Every year when the team went on their West Coast road trips, the families went skiing in Killington, Vermont.
Taught a hard-driving work ethic, the native of Flin Flon, Manitoba was very dedicated to his team and his teammates while he played for the Flyers, and his wife, Sandy, was the glue that kept everything together at home when he was gone. Sandy did everything with the kids – all of their banquets, sports, and various other activities. Even when his playing days were over, it still wasn’t easy for him to go and watch his kids partake in their own sporting events.
Jody recalls, “He was pretty famous when I was growing up and pretty recognizable. People would want to talk to him and want autographs. So when he came to my college soccer games or my older brother’s hockey games, he would sit and watch from the car.”
Though most of Clarke’s time was taken up by the game, he did the best he could to make time for his family. In the summer, the Clarkes would rent a home in Ocean City, New Jersey. The budding NHL star would spend two weeks down there with his wife and children, going on the beach, walking the boardwalk, and enjoying the various other activities the Jersey Shore provided.
Christmas Eve was always a big deal in the Clarke household, as they would throw parties every year with friends and family. They had a satellite dish when they first came out so Bobby could see all of the games. He and Jody would sit together for hours and watch all of the games, just the two of them. Jody cites that as one of her favorite memories with her father growing up.
Clarke, now 62, is one of the most prime examples of how the Flyers organization always draws people back, and so is the Clarke family. Jody works in hockey operations for the team, while her older brother, Wade, is a scout, and her younger brother, Lucas, works game nights.
“There’s something about them, they always draw you back. Philadelphia was always our home.”
Jody currently lives in South Jersey with her son Peter and daughter Emersyn. Her father spends the summer and fall at the family’s beach house in Ocean City and the winters in Sarasota.
And while Jody didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her father while she was growing up, her faather has been a huge presence in the lives of her kids.
“My son is his best friend,” she says. “He has more than made up for the time lost with us with my kids.”