As soon as he steps on the ice tonight, Aaron Clarke will reach a career milestone.
It will be his eighth game with the Albany River Rats, the longest stay for the second-year forward with an AHL team.
Clarke, 26, had seven games with Binghamton and another three with Providence earlier this season before being summoned by Albany in the wake of their Feb. 19 bus crash.
In his two-week stay, Clarke has proven to be more than just a name on the roster and a warm body in skates.
“I was nervous at first, but when I came here, the guys made me feel so comfortable that it was easy to fit it,” Clarke said following practice Tuesday morning at RPI’s Houston Field House. “That translates onto the ice, as well. It’s been great.”
Albany (28-28-3-3) begins a stretch of four home games in six days tonight against Norfolk at the Times Union Center, and as he has been almost since his arrival, Clarke will skate at left wing on the Rats’ third line with alternate captain Mike Angelidis at center and rookie Ryan Weston on the right.
Listed at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, Clarke brings an element of speed and skill that complements his linemates.
“He’s played real well for us,” Albany head coach-GM Jeff Daniels said. “He’s got decent skill. He’s strong along the boards. That line has played well for us. Clarkie scored a big goal the other night, and they’ve been responsible in the defensive zone. He seems to fit pretty well with them right now.”
His easy-going personality, as well as his ability, has allowed Clarke to blend in among his teammates, wherever he’s gone. Signed to an ECHL contract by Wheeling, he is on a 25-game pro tryout with the Rats.
“Coming here, I didn’t know what to expect,” Clarke said. “I thought it may have just been for the weekend, but coach has been good enough to give me a chance to play, and I keep getting the opportunity to play, which is great. As a call-up, sometimes you wind up on the fourth line, but he’s been playing me a regular shift, which is all I can ask for. I just try to do my job every time I’m out there so I can keep playing.”
Clarke netted his second AHL goal and first with Albany, driving the net to stuff in Brett Carson’s rebound in the third period of a 4-1 win over Syracuse Sunday in Glens Falls. He has four points and is plus-3 in seven games for the Rats.
Overall, Clarke — who split four college seasons between Niagara and Robert Morris — is 2-4-6 and plus-5 in 17 AHL games.
“That’s what it’s all about, getting up here and getting a chance,” Daniels said. “You look at [Rats defenseman] Bryan Rodney, who came up as a one-game fill-in last year and all of a sudden he’s on an NHL contract and has played a handful of NHL games this year. You never know.”
Clarke has 30 goals and 73 points in 100 ECHL games.
“Every opportunity you get, you don’t know if it’s going to be your last, so you have to try to make everything you can from it,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that because of the accident they’re missing guys, but its another opportunity and you have to take it to the fullest. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
Daniel Manzato, who is 6-1 in 2009 and 3-0 vs. Norfolk this season, will be in goal for Albany. It will mark his first back-to-back starts since Dec. 7 and 12. . . .
East Greenbush native Matt Lashoff, traded by Boston to Tampa Bay last week, was having a gash on the back of his knee examined by the NHL team, and is not expected to be in the Admirals’ lineup. . . .
Today is Clear Day in the AHL, when all 29 teams must submit their 22-man rosters for the final month of the regular season and playoffs by 3 p.m.