Clark Gillies' leadership qualities and hockey ability was a large reason why his teams won championships at both the amateur and professional level. His amateur career was highlighted by a Memorial Cup championship prior to a National Hockey League career that spanned 14 seasons. At 6'3" and 215 lbs., Gillies was one of the league's premiere power forwards during the second half of the 1970's and early 1980's. The left winger teamed up with fellow Hockey Hall of Famers Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier to form one of the decade's most lethal forward lines, nicknamed the "Trio Grande".
Gillies was born on April 7, 1954 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. He earned a reputation of playing tough with the ability to provide offence during his three seasons with the Western Canada Junior Hockey League's Regina Pats. In 1973-74, the Pats won the west and then became the best junior team in the nation by winning the Memorial Cup championship. He was named to the WCJHL First All-Star team that season. Later that spring he was drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders whereupon he made the team following his first NHL training camp, never playing a minor professional game. At the World Hockey Association draft the same year, Gillies was selected in the third round by the Edmonton Oilers.
As an intimidating presence on the ice throughout his career, Gillies appeared to elevate his level of play when the opposing team raised his ire. He was a dependable competitor who was virtually unstoppable while playing his rugged style of game. This quality provided his Islander linemates the extra space to work their magic and achieve individual success. Gillies earned the respect and admiration of his teammates and peers despite not realizing points earned and reflected in a season's or career's statistics. He still concerted himself as an efficient NHL scorer as he scored 30-or-more goals six times in his career and assisted on 30-or-more goals five times.
At around the halfway point of Gillies' third NHL season, Eddie Westfall, the New York Islanders captain, removed the "C" from his sweater. After a special dressing room vote, the young Gillies was chosen as the new team captain. As a test of his strength in the dressing room, Gillies backed it up with leadership on the ice. During the 1977 NHL playoffs during a quarterfinal round against Buffalo he recorded three consecutive game-winning goals to tie an NHL record. After two and a half seasons, Gillies resigned as captain and was succeeded by future Hockey Hall of Famer Denis Potvin. A period of league domination continued in the spring of 1980 as the Islanders won their first of four consecutive Stanley Cups equaling Montreal's achievement in the late 1970's. During the 1984 playoffs, Gillies notched a career-best 12 goals that included a hat trick in game two of the finals against the Edmonton Oilers. Nicknamed "Jethro" (after the Beverly Hillbillies TV show character) by his teammates, Gillies played two more seasons to end his years as a member of the Uniondale, New York-based team. His career with the Islanders spanned 12 seasons where he registered regular season totals of 304 goals and 663 points, fourth in all-time scoring for the franchise. Ninety-two of those goals, or almost one-third were power play markers. As well, fifty-four of his regular season goals were either game-winning or game-tying goals.
During the summer of 1986 he was obtained by another New York State team, the Buffalo Sabres, in the annual Waiver Draft. He played two seasons with the Sabres, before retiring after the 1987-88 season.
Gillies was a two-time NHL First Team All-Star left wing in 1977-78 and 1978-79. He participated in the 1978 NHL All-Star Game and the following year was selected to play with the NHL All-Stars in the 1979 Challenge Cup. His Islander line was the number one NHL unit against the Soviet Union national team. "The Trio Grande" was also an obvious choice to lead Team Canada at the 1981 Canada Cup, where Gillies helped Canada earn a second place finish.
He retired from the NHL with regular season totals of 319 goals, 378 assists for 697 points. In 147 NHL playoff games he scored 47 and assisted on the same for 94 points. On December 7, 1996, Clark Gillies' number "9" was retired by the New York Islanders as a symbol of his great contribution and significance to the team.