Nottingham Panthers: It's a great environment to work in, says Clarke
DAVID Clarke was full of praise for his team-mates and coach Corey Neilson this week.
And the GB winger cites the excellent environment currently at the club as one of the reasons why Nottingham Panthers proudly stand four points clear at the top of the Elite League table, with six games remaining.
"It's a great environment to work in at the moment," said Clarke ahead of Saturday's sell-out clash with arch-enemies Sheffield Steelers at the National Ice Centre (7pm).
"We are all looking to get better each game; there is a good mentality in the room.
"It is clear everyone is committed to the cause.
"Over the years we've had that and have been successful; but to win the league you need that every night and we are perhaps more focused this time."
Clarke says it is this determination to succeed, instilled in them by coach Neilson, that is paying dividends.
"When we go into each game, Corey has a plan which we have to execute and the guys are following that direction very well," he said.
"We win a game, we lose a game, whatever, it's done.
"Then it's back to work the next day whether its practice or another game.
"It's a very tight workmanlike bunch here which is reflected in some of our games.
"In the past, guys have sometimes got away from the plan and holes appear and we lose a game we maybe shouldn't be losing.
"But it's a really positive environment that's been created.
"You can go through the whole team; everyone wants to be a better hockey player, to progress and win trophies.
"Credit Corey for that; bringing in the right characters and bringing back someone like Beau (David Beauregard), who is good on and off the ice.
"It's good when you have people around like that because it becomes infectious."
Last weekend, Panthers demonstrated exactly those traits Clarke is talking about.
They endured a three-games-in-three-nights trek to Scotland to complete a mammoth six games in ten days stretch – and they won them all.
That also included a midweek flight to Belfast for the second leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final against their title rivals.
And they say footballers have it rough playing Saturday - midweek - Saturday!
The 4-3 win in Belfast also emphasises the point. It was a game they could have taken comparatively easy as they were holding a four-goal lead from the first leg.
After having his share of coaches during his nine seasons with the club, Clarke says Neilson – who is still on the roster as a player – can go on to have a good career on the bench.
"Corey is doing a terrific job," he said. "It must be tough for him because he is still a very good player.
"He's been remarkable really and he's got a very bright future in that department.
"I think he's enjoying it now, pitting his wits with the opposition.
"He's very knowledgeable and it shows how he manages games."
Clarke says Neilson's influence is making him a better, all-round player.
Often the first line up with regular line-mate Matthew Myers, Clarke invariably gets in the first hit, which sets the tone of the game.
"Yes, Corey wants me to do more of that," Clarke added.
"Playing with Matthew, too, that's his game as well.
"Along with Kelsey (Wilson) we are doing a good job in trying to bring energy, especially when we're first line up and playing at home to get the crowd in it straightaway.
"Corey always pushes me to become a better, more rounded player, season on season.
"If it helps the team and it improves your game you do whatever is necessary.
"He is always trying to improve our game and bring in things that may have been overlooked, perhaps.
"The main thing, though, the goal from day one, is to get the job done every night and whatever comes along will look after itself.
"As a group, we are looking good at the minute but we are only looking at winning the next match and nothing beyond that."