By Matt Gutsch
Famously known as the dean of intercollegiate hockey coaches, Clare Drake has become synonymous with hockey at the University of Alberta. A man revered across Canada and internationally for his extraordinary knowledge of the game, Drake created the premier university hockey program in North America at the University of Alberta as the head coach of the Golden Bears, which celebrates its centennial year this year.
He is one of the most distinguished coaches, having been awarded the Geoff Gowan Award in 2006, the Coaching Association of Canada’s top award. On October 9, 2008 Clare will be named to the Order of Excellence by the Province of Alberta in recognition of his considerable contribution to “leadership and innovations in coaching and post-secondary sports education, particularly in the game of hockey.”
This giant of the arena started his career wanting to become a teacher. Clare attended the University of British Columbia where he played varsity hockey for the Thunderbirds in each of his three years there, serving as captain in his final year.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Physical Education degree from UBC in 1951, he married Dolly Carlson, who has provided enthusiastic support throughout his long and distinguished career.
The Drakes moved to Edmonton and Clare played one season of hockey with the University of Alberta Golden Bears, leading them to the Western Canada Championships as the team’s co-scoring leader. He earned a Bachelor of Education degree at the U of A, then completed a Master of Science degree at the University of Washington and further graduate work at the University of Oregon, before returning to Alberta to follow his calling as a teacher.
In 1955, while teaching and coaching several teams at Strathcona Composite High School, Drake joined the Golden Bears as interim head coach and won his first league championship.
It was the presage of an astonishing record to come.
In 1958 he was appointed to become full-time head coach of the Golden Bears. In 28 seasons behind the Alberta bench, he led the Bears to six national championships and 17 Canada West titles. In 1983 Drake became the first coach in CIAU history to win 500 games and, on October 8, 1985 made history by becoming the most successful coach in intercollegiate hockey history with his 556th victory.
His final numbers when he retired after the 1988-89 season were impressive: 697 wins, 296 losses and 37 ties for a .695 winning percentage. He was named CIAU Coach of the Year twice and Canada West Coach of the Year four times. Drake was inducted in to the University of Alberta Sports Wall of Fame in 1987 and into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. On June 1, 1990, the U of A dedicated Varsity Arena, the university’s hockey rink, to him and renamed it the Clare Drake Arena.
Besides his role as hockey coach, Drake also guided the Golden Bears football team for three seasons in the 1960s, compiling a record of 23–4. In 1967–68 he became the only coach in CIAU history to lead both football and hockey teams to a national title.
Drake’s record is also well known in international hockey circles. He was co-coach of the 1980 Canadian Olympic hockey team; coached the Canadian student national team to a gold medal at the 1981 World Student Games in Jaca, Spain, and silver and bronze medals in 1972 at Lake Placid, New York, and in 1987 at Poprad, Czechoslovakia. In 1984 he guided Team Canada to its first ever gold medal at the Spengler Cup tournament in Switzerland.
Drake took a leave of absence from the university in 1975 and 1976 to take the reins as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, then of the World Hockey Association. Drake was fired midway through the season when it appeared his strong work ethic was not well liked by players. Regardless, he was named Edmonton Sportsman of the Year in 1975.
Over the span of his work at the University of Alberta he has provided enlightened leadership to hockey coaching development through contributions to the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association course manuals, and through presentations at countless clinics and player development camps across the country. He has conducted coaching workshops and clinics throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia, where he is recognized as one of the foremost Canadian authorities on the game. As further testimony to his influence, former players have coached up to the highest levels in hockey. Many hold leading positions in hockey and sport associations, while others lead in their chosen professions.
In 1989–90, Drake served as an assistant coach for the National Hockey League Winnipeg Jets. More recently he was a technical advisor to the University of Alberta Pandas women’s hockey team during the 1997–98 and 1998–99 seasons—the team’s first two years in existence—under current head coach Howie Draper.
Drake also worked with the Dallas Stars during the 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The coach may have hung up his skates, but the memory of his and the Golden Bears’ glory days are forever enshrined in two books produced last year: Clare Drake: the Coaches ’ Coach, by Derek Drager, and Bears on Ice, by Stephen Scriver and Kenneth Brown.