Emily Clark was just three days old when her mother first took her to a hockey rink to watch one of her older brother's games.
You could say that, almost from the day she was born, Clark was destined to skate, shoot and score.
The youngest of six children (four boys, two girls) Clark was enveloped by hockey from the start. Instead of bedtime stories at home in Saskatoon, the family's nightly ritual was watching hockey highlights on TV. One night, a story appeared on one of those shows that sparked a dream in young Emily.
"It was about this player who wrote down when he was young [that] he was going to play in the NHL one day and then he signed it," Clark recalls.
"That night I wrote 'I'm going to play for Team Saskatchewan and Team Canada,' and I signed it and put it on my wall."
That piece of paper is still on the wall in her childhood bedroom. Fast-forward all these years later and she's living up to the words she wrote down.
The 21-year-old centre is one of Hockey Canada's most promising young players and is quickly rising in the team's ranks. Described as gritty and hard-working by her coaches, Clark is now trying to crack the women's roster for the Olympics. Twenty-eight players are in the mix right now — a number that will be trimmed to the 23 who will represent Canada in South Korea this winter.
Clark has played in the past three world championships for Canada but is hungry for the Olympic opportunity.
"It's always been my goal since I was six years old. 2018 was the year I had marked to do this," she says. "But I don't look too far ahead. I'll just keep bringing my best."
Clark and Team Canada are in the midst of traveling across Alberta, playing a total of 24 games against teams in the province's triple-A Midget Hockey League, which is made up of boys born mostly in 2000 and 2001. Then it's on to a six-game series against the United States women's national team, beginning Oct. 22 in Quebec City.
Clark is trying to do everything she can to solidify a spot on the team. She has even put her senior year of studies at the University of Wisconsin on pause to focus on this hockey season.
"It's a roller coaster and we go through so many games," she says. "I'm normally at school right now, but now it's just hockey every day."
In Hayley's footsteps
Clark beams when she talks about her Saskatoon roots, pointing to the many women's hockey greats who have come from Saskatchewan. She recalls watching Colleen Sostorics and Dana Antal while growing up. Then, just last year, she played alongside one of her heroes, the legendary Hayley Wickenheiser.
"To be able to follow in their footsteps is pretty awesome," she says. "I think across Canada, Wickenheiser was an influence on all women hockey players. What she did resonated with me in a big way, having come from Saskatchewan."
Now Clark is trying to create her own legacy.
"To have the chance to be a hockey name from Saskatchewan is pretty special to me," she says. "I'm just trying to inspire that next generation of young women."
Clark's family has a cabin at Emma Lake in northern Saskatchewan — the same spot where Toronto Maple Leafs coach and two-time Olympic champion Mike Babcock has a place.
"We've only crossed paths up there once, when I was 14," says Clark. "I bought and read his book, Leave No Doubt. That's my mentality."
Every Christmas, the Clark family clears the ice on Emma Lake for an annual hockey game. Emily's dad brings out a pump to flood the ice, complete with lights so they can skate into the night.
"We'd spend three or four hours out on the pond. You couldn't get us off the ice," Emily recalls.
Playing with the boys
Clark admits there were awkward and difficult moments early on in Saskatoon. She was often the lone girl on boys' teams and was forced to change in referee rooms and other tiny spaces.
"I've definitely seen some closets," she laughs. "It wasn't until about Bantam that I was changing on my own."
Those early days influenced Clark's father, Del, who is the operations manager for two of Saskatoon's largest rink facilities. Del has created fully furnished female dressing rooms in both complexes.
"I'm proud that my dad made a point when he got to those rinks to make nice girls' dressing rooms," Emily says. "Full stalls, full showers."
Clark says that, despite having to be separated from her team before and after games in her early hockey days, her teammates and coaches couldn't have been more supportive.
"I wasn't a feeling like I was a girl playing boys hockey, but that I was a hockey player."
It wasn't before long Clark had her own place to change before games. She became a standout with the local women's Midget team, which she joined when she was only 13 — making her a couple years younger than the typical player.
"That first season with the [Saskatoon] Stars was a big learning curve," she says. "I was on the bench a lot. Then after that my career took off. I got my first national tryout."
Clark will never forget the first correspondence she received from Canada's national team, showing interest in her.
"I was in the car with my parents and we were traveling to Shattuck-St. Mary's [the famed Minnesota school that Sidney Crosby attended] to a camp that college scouts were at and my mom checked her phone," she recalls.
"There was an email about a U-18 invite for Team Canada. I was 15. It's been a crazy ride since then."
Clark says that, when she first came to play with players she had watched at the Olympics, she was wide-eyed, shy and didn't say more than "five or six words." It couldn't be more different today. She feels part of a group now looking to capture a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal for Canada.
"Every day we're preparing for that gold-medal game," she says. "I've always been hopeful and this has always been my goal. It's surreal it's becoming a reality.