William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past eight years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles Cosmo Clarke, USA Hockey’s coach-in-chief for the Rocky Mountain District and a big part of the sport in Dallas for more than 20 years.
Cosmo Clarke said it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
The Dallas Stars had just won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and Clarke had recently retired after a six-year minor league hockey career and settled in Fort Worth, Texas, where he spent two seasons on the Central Hockey League.
“Dallas wins the Cup, we’re hanging out with some of the guys and bump into to some people who said, ‘Hey, we recognize you, are you interested in training or coaching down here?’ Clarke said. “It all kind of went from there.”
The 50-year-old has been a fixture in the Dallas hockey scene ever since. For more than 20 years, he has coached or trained local talent who have gone on to play in the NHL and other professional leagues and college.
Tampa Bay Lightning forward Blake Coleman has worked with Clarke. So has Colgate University defenseman Allyson Simpson, who won two gold medals with the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team.
“Cos is certainly one of the founding fathers of hockey in this area for sure,” Stars director of amateur hockey and partnership development Lucas Reid said. “He and Dwight Mullins and those guys who came out of their (minor league) careers here at the same time, they certainly paved the way.”
Clarke has added coaching coaches to his portfolio. In May, he became USA Hockey’s coach-in-chief for the Rocky Mountain District, which encompasses Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.
He oversees all facets of coaching education for the region and is responsible for putting a team together to execute and deliver coaching education at USA Hockey coaching levels one through four.
“After years of working with players, now I’m trying to get coaches to think about, ‘All right, why are you designing your practices this way? what are you trying to accomplish?’ ” Clarke said. “We have good instructors out there that are showing passion and showing that there is a true love for the game, that the game is for anybody and we shouldn’t exclude anybody from the game, coaching or playing.”
The son of Jamaican immigrants who arrived in Canada via England, Clarke developed his passion for hockey from his older brother, Delroy, who played Tier II junior hockey in the Ottawa area.
His brother stopped playing hockey when he attended college, but Cosmo Clarke played four seasons for Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, under coach Mike Pelino, who would later become an assistant with the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers.
“I was introduced to hockey camps that Mike Pelino ran,” Clarke said. “I went from counselor to instructor to running the off-ice fitness component of the program and leadership and team-building. It definitely enhanced me wanting to pursue that and continue on with it.”
Clarke worked his way through the minor leagues after college, playing for Brantford, Flint and Dayton of the old Colonial Hockey League and Fort Worth, Macon and Memphis of the Central Hockey League.
The 6-foot-3, 238-pound left wing scored 191 points (97 goals, 94 assists) in 265 minor-league games.
Former NHL player Graeme Townshend traded for Clarke when he coached Macon in 1999-00.
“I needed some skill on my power play, and he was really good, big and strong,” said Townshend, the NHL’s first player born in Jamaica.
Clarke settled in the Dallas area after he retired because that’s where he met his wife. His timing couldn’t have been better; the Stars’ victory against the Buffalo Sabres in six games in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final spurred kids in the Dallas area to take up hockey. Parents would ask Clarke if he could work with their children.
He found there were some boys and girls who had some hockey skills, but not the foundation to excel in the game.
“The power skating, the shooting mechanics, none of that stuff was really down here at that time,” Clarke said. “When I first came down, you had general hockey guys doing lessons wearing shorts and T-shirts on the ice, doing private lessons. We came down, we’re wearing track pants, doing power skating, the whole thing.”
Clarke focused on coaching high school and youth league teams for a number of years before concentrating on young players’ off-ice strength and conditioning. He founded Clarke Athletics and runs a gym out of one of the local rinks.
“He really dove into the off-ice element of the sport, and there weren’t a lot of people in the area doing that,” Reid said. “He was a trusted name and he’s done really well. A lot of pro guys go to him in the offseason, most of the youth players in the area use him.”
Townshend, who was a skating and skills coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks, thinks Clarke has the experience to become a professional coach someday.
“It’s always a dream to be involved in coaching at the professional level, whether it’s a skills coach or a strength coach, whatever it may be,” Clarke said. “Whenever I hear of an opportunity, I try to get the resume out there.”