"I hope they’ll take away the importance of togetherness of a real team and the experience of playing and learning together but also supporting each other and fighting through adversity."
Clare Drake is a renowned educator who has been called the “grandfather of coaching in Canada.” He has served as an outstanding role model for countless players and for the many coaches who have based their own winning strategies on the innovative training and approaches he helped to develop.
Clare James Drake was born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan on October 9, 1928, the only child of Clarence and Grace Drake. He enjoyed a typical prairie childhood, aside from the somewhat unusual experience of attending school with his father as principal. Clare excelled at sports and grew up fostering a particular passion for hockey and baseball. His hockey skills eventually took him to stints playing centre for Junior league teams in Regina and Medicine Hat. Clare then attended the University of British Columbia where he played varsity hockey before graduating with a Bachelor of Physical Education degree in 1951. That same year he married his high school sweetheart, Dolly, and began looking for work.
In 1951, Clare joined the Western Canadian Baseball League as an infielder for the Kamsack Cyclones and helped out his former football coach at his Yorkton high school. Although his three-year degree from UBC didn’t allow him to teach high school, the school was impressed with Clare’s abilities and arranged for him to join the staff. After two years, Clare enrolled at the University of Alberta to earn his teaching credentials. At school, he studied physical education and coaching and played with the Golden Bears hockey squad. At home, he was a member of team Drake, which came to include daughters Debbie and Jami.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Education degree in 1954, Clare played and coached professional hockey in Düsseldorf Germany. He enjoyed a successful experience there but was drawn back to Edmonton upon hearing that the newly built Strathcona Composite High School needed a physical education department head. He happily filled the role for three years, gaining teaching and coaching experience while also helping out U of A Golden Bears hockey coach, Dr. Don Smith. When Dr. Smith retired in 1958, Coach Drake was asked to take on the job full-time.
In 28 seasons at what he describes as the “best coaching job in Canada,” Coach Drake led his players to 17 western conference championships and six Canadian championships. He also served as assistant football coach for most of the 1960’s and filled in as head football coach for three of those years. In 1967, Clare’s dual coaching duties produced a result that has yet to be repeated when he became the only coach to win the intercollegiate hockey and football championships in the same year. Coach Drake remembers fall months when he would “come in from the football field, quickly change cleats for blades and then head back out to coach hockey.” His players in those years, and in every year he coached, fondly remember an extraordinary and positive team experience led by a man with a generous spirit, a commitment to fostering excellence in others and a unique approach to strategy and skill development.
Clare Drake is credited as one of the first people in Canada to take a more analytical approach to coaching hockey and is the creator of technical innovations that have changed the way the game is played at all levels. Early in his career, he broke with tradition to openly share winning strategies with rival coaches and also helped train fellow coaches through clinics at the regional, national and international level. He was closely involved in the development of Canada’s National Coaching Certification Program which has become a key training tool for coaches and sports educators across the country. Clare Drake’s fingerprints can be seen, not only in the high quality of technical training provided through the program but in the open and collaborative spirit of learning it represents.
Clare has also maintained a steady commitment to his own continuing education. He earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Washington and completed course work for a Doctor of Education degree at the University of Oregon. In between his work with the Golden Bears, he also worked with other programs, including coaching Team Canada at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid and leading Team Canada International to its first gold medal in hockey at the prestigious Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland in 1983.
When Coach Drake retired from his duties at the U of A in 1989, he held the North American intercollegiate record for career wins. Clare is quick to give credit to those who helped him achieve his coaching success, including his friends and co-coaches, Dr. Murray Smith and Bill Moores.
After retiring from the U of A, Clare joined the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets as an assistant coach and the Jets coaching staff won the Jack Adams Trophy in 1989-90. He left full time coaching shortly after but continued to serve as a consultant to a wide range of NHL teams. In 1995, Clare also began work as a mentor to the Canadian Women’s National Hockey team and was proud to see the young squad take home silver at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
Clare Drake’s numerous honours include an Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the U of A, the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the Alberta Centennial Medal, the 3M Gordon Juckes Award from Hockey Canada and the Geoff Gowan Award from the Canadian Coaching Association, which is the top honour for any coach in any sport. He is a member of the U of A, UBC, Edmonton, Alberta and Canada Sports Halls of Fame and is an Honourary Life Member of the Alberta Football Coaches Association.
Although Clare Drake is a humble man who doesn’t like to take credit for the positive changes he’s made to sport, his players will tell you the real story. They will tell you of a kind, hard working and highly inspirational man known simply as “The Coach” who has made a lasting impact on the game of hockey and on sports education in general.