“It’s exciting, she’s a down-home Saskatchewan girl and she’ll really get a kick out of this.”
The prediction of Emily Clark’s father Del could not have been more spot-on as the clock rolled past 10 p.m. on Tuesday night.
Emily, Emily, Emily.
The reverberating chants echoed through the halls at the Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International Airport as a crowd filled with family, friends, local hockey players and fans welcomed local hockey hero – and Olympic gold medalist – Emily Clark back to Saskatoon.
The 26-year-old player for Team Canada smiled and waved before taking a deep breath and clutching at her gold medal.
The outpouring of local support clearly exceeded anything the Saskatoon native could’ve expected.
She quickly rushed to her family embracing each in turn before turning back to the throngs, many of which were young female hockey players, spending the next hour speaking with each of them, taking pictures and signing autographs.
“There’s so many emotions going through my mind and it’s hard to put words to, but honestly I think this is the first time where this has felt real … to be back in Saskatoon, see some friends and family and share it with them,” Clark said.
Clark says she grew up idolizing the players on the women’s national team. Now that she has reached the level of her childhood heroes, she says she does everything in her power to give the next generation of Canadian athletes the same encouragement and personal experiences that were given to her.
“In terms of getting to see these young athletes, these little girls, I mean I have a number of stories of meeting Dana Antal in 2006; I have a signature from Cassie Campbell; I met Carla MacLeod when I was 16 which had a huge impact on me.
“I had Dana Antal’s signature in my room all growing up, I think I probably spent 10 seconds with her, but I had her signature on the 2002 team picture all growing up.”
“So, I know the impact of those (moments, even if the) interactions might seem small. Anytime I take a selfie, anytime I sign something for somebody, I don’t take that lightly.”
Being a positive role model for the community and an ambassador for women in hockey, as well as for women in sport, is something that the newly minted gold medalist doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s probably something my parents instilled in me – you’ve got to give everyone time. And I mean they were probably here waiting just to see me come out,” Clark said. “Some of the girls who were waiting off to the side, I wanted to make sure that they had their moment too, that they got to put on the medal.
“I like to take my time with people, sometimes the time isn’t there to allow it, but I think the personal touches make a huge difference and I really care about these girls, this community and this sport.”
Her homecoming was just a week removed from the biggest hockey game of her life, a gold medal rematch with the Americans, where Clark and her teammates claimed the top prize, closing out the Olympics with a 3-2 win.
Despite the whirlwind that she’s experienced over the last week, she recalled the moments leading up to it with ease.
“The whole day was a dream, honestly,” she explained. “Waking up I had a really good feeling, just a lot of belief in the team. I’ve never felt like that on a championship game day. The whole day I just had to keep reminding myself, ‘OK it’s breakfast time,’ ‘it’s warmup time,’ just taking things one step at a time and not worrying about the result.”
When the final buzzer sounded her immediate celebration was with line-mate Blayre Turnbull, the two even celebrated with caution mindful of Turnbull’s celebration injury that occurred in the Women’s World Championship pile-up that resulted in a broken fibula.
“In the moment when the game ended I realized that we won, but I don’t think it really hit me that we won an Olympic gold medal, so I (got to) have that extra hug with Blayre on the bench (and we) went into the pile a little bit later, just to be safe.
“It was really special to share that with her because we’re line-mates, roommates there, and I’ve known her since my freshman year in college (at Wisconsin), I know it was a quick hug in the moment, but it meant a lot to me.”
Nearly 9,000 km away, the celebration wasn’t quite as delayed at the Clark family home as her brothers, parents and sister-in-laws celebrated as they watched Emily reach her lifelong goal of winning an Olympic gold medal.
“It was the best, it was exciting, it was awesome,” her father said. “To see Emily work so hard and to finally achieve her goal, it was the best.”
“It’s a dream come true for not only Emily, but for the entire family,” brother Jeff added. “It’s been a lifelong dream of Emily’s since she was 9, 10, 11, 12 to be on the Olympic team and to win that gold medal. So, to see that come full circle is just absolutely amazing.”
Even though the family was there to support Emily throughout her entire Olympic journey, the bubble atmosphere imposed amid COVID-19 pandemic protocols made things tougher for both sides, not being able to enjoy the experience in person, together.
“I love when my family gets to come watch, they’ve travelled the world to see me play. So, to have them not be able to do that the last couple of years, like many athletes, has been tough,” Emily said.
“It was extremely difficult,” her brother echoed. “We’ve been all over the world (to watch her play), we’ve been to Canada, the U.S, all over Europe, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, So not being able to go this time around to go see her in China there was tough, but during a worldwide pandemic you expect some changes.”
One thing that they were able to experience through the broadcasts were the consistent shout-outs to the family, but even bigger to the Clarks was a term that was coined years ago at the family home while playing the popular NHL videogame, a term that is now synonymous with Emily and fellow penalty killer Turnbull, the “power kill.”
“The power kill actually started out with family game nights playing NHL,” Jeff explained. “Every shift is an opportunity, so why not take advantage of it when you’ve got the other team thinking that they’ve got a leg up on you.
“So, to watch (Emily) and Blayre Turnbull out there on the power kill at the Olympics and again the last two minutes of the biggest game on Earth, they had to trust to put Emily and Blayre out there and they almost killed the entire two minutes and dragged it down to the last 13 and a half seconds – it was just amazing.”
“We re-branded the penalty kill because we love killing penalties, it’s a huge asset to our game, we thought calling it the penalty kill wasn’t enough, so we changed it to the power kill,” Emily explained. “(The name) comes from my brothers playing XBOX, so when the PK started having success at (the World Championship) it got that name and it really is fitting.
“It’s pretty cool that the name might stick around and it started in my family’s living room.”
From the Tuesday night celebration until she boards a flight to head home to Calgary, Clark is enjoying every second she can with her family and friends in Saskatchewan.
“They’ve all had such a huge impact on getting me here,” Clark admitted. “So to get to share it with them, that’s when it feels real because they’re the people that I love the most.”