BOSTON — A native New Englander, Chris Clark knows all about the Bruins. They weren't his first love as a kid growing up in Whaler country in South Windsor, Conn., but he certainly developed a respect for the NHL franchise remaining in the region.
Clark was in college at Clarkson when the Whalers bolted for Carolina in 1997, denying him the chance to play for his hometown team. But after 11 seasons in the NHL with Calgary, Washington and Columbus, Clark has an opportunity to play for the Bruins after accepting an invitation to attend Boston's camp on a tryout basis.
"I grew up, not necessarily a Bruins fan being so close to Hartford, but the Bruins were in the papers, on the news my whole life growing up, so I know the history," Clark said after Monday's practice at the Garden. "I know the passion, so it's something that if I can end up wearing the B on my chest it will be awesome."
The Bruins know a bit about the passion that Clark brings to the game as well, which could give him a chance to earn a roster spot even though he's come to camp without a contract.
"I've always had a lot of respect for him," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "What I liked about Chris was that you knew he was going to play hard every night and to play against a guy like that, that's not an easy thing, but you learn to respect and like those kind of players. I've always admired that from him and that's what he's shown here again.
"I'm one of those guys that believes he's going to push really hard and is going to make us make a real tough decision here," Julien added. "Certainly his experience, his leadership qualities are something that we can certainly look at. When you lose a guy like [Mark] Recchi, sometimes you rely on guys in the dressing room to pick it up, but sometimes you also have the luxury of bringing somebody in who can help fill in that gap as well."
Clark had opportunities to try to land a job with other teams, but opted to try here in Boston in part because of the openings created by Recchi's retirement and Michael Ryder's departure via free agency. That big, shiny trophy the Bruins just won didn't hurt either.
"There were other [offers], but I just thought with the couple of guys they lost and the great team they have, so if I have the opportunity to make this team, why not try to make one of best teams in the league?" Clark said. "It's something I definitely want to take advantage of."
Clark, 35, is mostly just hoping to take advantage of finally being healthy again. He played just 53 games last year with Columbus due to a lower-body injury. The previous season a knee injury ended his season after 74 games, while wrist surgery limited him to 32 games in 2008-09 and a groin injury forced him to miss all but 18 games in 2007-08. But Clark insists he's healthy now, and is eager to prove it.
"I feel great," Clark said. "It's the first full summer I've had in two years of pure training, no rehabbing. It's been great. It was a long summer for me, five months, but it was pure training and no rehabbing, no worrying about anything so it was a great offseason for me."
The Bruins are equally anxious to see if Clark can return to his pre-injury form, when he was a physical two-way forward and an effective penalty killer.
"They said they liked the way I played previously [before his injuries], if I could bring that and continue to bring that to the table, I'd be something they'd be looking for," Clark said. "A good third- or fourth-line winger, grind it out, kill penalties, good off-ice leader, stuff like that."
That's a package that might even get the Bruins to look past where his original loyalties were as kid in Connecticut.
"It was all Whalers," Clark said. "I still have [longtime Hartford play-by-play announcer] Chuck Kaiton in my head listening to him on the radio going to sleep."