- Scott Burnside, NHL
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It was an emotional couple of days in the New York City area for former New Jersey Devil David Clarkson.
Clarkson returned to the Prudential Center in Newark on Thursday for a series of photo shoots and interviews, sessions that included Clarkson wearing his new Toronto Maple Leafs jersey on the Prudential Center ice, having signed a seven-year deal with the Leafs that will pay him an average of $5.25 million annually.
On Thursday, though, Clarkson wanted to pay his respects to a man who was a father figure to him since he was signed by New Jersey as a free agent in 2005 -- Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello.
So it was not without some trepidation that Clarkson visited Lamoriello in his office at the Prudential Center, the first face-to-face meeting between the two since Clarkson signed with the Leafs.
“It was tough. The amount of respect I have for Lou and how long I was there, I think he’s kind of helped me develop into the person and player that I am,” Clarkson told ESPN.com Friday.
“I was a bit nervous going up to his office, but I wanted to go up there and thank him in person. I only got a chance to speak to him on the phone when I decided to sign in Toronto.
“He knows what he’s done for me, but just to really tell him what he’d done and thank him on behalf of my family. He was phenomenal to my wife over the years. He’s someone that’s got a very big heart and he’s a very loyal person so he’s really been there for me and my family at a lot of times. So I just wanted to thank him and it went well.”
Clarkson, a Toronto native, was courted by a number of teams before deciding he would play for the hometown Leafs.
“My decision wasn’t made to go to the Maple Leafs. When the season ended, I wasn’t like, 'Oh I’m going to become a Maple Leaf,'” he explained.
“There were cities that I saw that really wowed me and that I thought were fantastic.”
But when it was time for a decision, he struggled.
“I would think of times here [in New Jersey] and I would think of, 'OK, what about this place and that place that we really liked?'” he said.
But ultimately the lure of playing for the team that he cheered for as a young boy was overwhelming.
“To be honest, I’m somebody that tries to live my life without any regret, and when I’m done playing the game, I think, you know what, I’m not going to have that regret. I got a chance to play for my hometown team,” Clarkson said.
“And now it’s up to me what I do with it. I wanted to be a part of something that as a kid I wore that jersey and cheered for so I feel very lucky to get the chance to be a part of that.”
20hPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald