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The pregame ceremony includes new members of the Leafs' Legends Row, including Wendel Clark, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Feb. 18, 2017.Mark Blinch/2017 NHLI

As a veteran of two all-star games as a player, Wendel Clark is well versed in what hockey’s travelling jamboree means, to both the host city as well as the players lucky enough to be selected to take part.

But in neither of the years in which he participated, in Hartford in 1986 and Tampa in 1999, was the sport embroiled in the kind of controversy in which it currently finds itself. So while the NHL and the world’s best hockey players will whoop it up in Toronto for the next three days, the rest of the country is waiting for next Monday, when the London police will hold a news conference to provide details of its ongoing sexual-assault investigation involving five members of Canada’s 2018 world junior team. Four of the five are current NHL players, with the fifth a former player skating overseas.

But Clark, who is best known as a retired Toronto Maple Leafs captain who now works for the organization as a team ambassador, says that while the investigation will cast a shadow, it should all be taken in context.

“Remember, everything that goes on is world and life stuff, it’s not just a sport stuff,” he said Wednesday. “That’s world and life stuff. We’re talking here with the all-star game, this is celebrating the game of hockey and hockey itself.”

As he has done for much of the time since he retired following the 2000 season, Clark was busy in the buildup to this weekend’s all-star game. Alongside another former Maple Leaf, Mark Fraser, Clark was at Toronto’s Alexandra Park, one of three city locations where the NHL, the Leafs, and the team’s owner, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, have combined to donate money to help establish an all-star legacy, revitalizing ice- and ball-hockey rinks.

The Alexandra Park rink is just up the street from where Clark lived when he played for the Leafs the first time around in the late eighties and early nineties, leading them to back-to-back conference finals. Given how much the demographics of Toronto have changed since then, Clark said it’s initiatives such as this legacy project that will help ensure hockey doesn’t lose its grip on the city and its psyche.

“We’re really into selling the game because the more diverse that the country gets and the city gets, there’s so many other sports that are coming in that are strong from other countries, whether it be cricket or soccer or basketball,” he said.

“You’re competing with that, and hockey not being the cheapest sport it’s tough to be a part of so whenever we can come out and make it accessible for new Canadians, new players, new kids of all sorts, and let them understand what they’re watching when they enjoy the game on Saturday night.”

Clark saw firsthand how a home all-star game can alter the landscape in a host city back in 1999, when he represented the North America squad as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. And while he concedes that Toronto is a very different market to Florida, and doesn’t have to be converted into a hockey city, it’s important not to simply rest on your laurels and take fan support as a given.

But he’s confident Toronto will put on a big show of its love of the game, both now and well into the future.

“To see how big Toronto is going to make it because of really the city and the country selling the game and … when the NHL and the Leafs can get together and set up a legacy program and really keep the game growing strong because you can’t lose it,” he said. “You may be good at it but you can’t forget about still growing it.”

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