Canadian defenceman Clarence ‘Sonny’ Rost was the only man to play and coach at the Empire Pool, Wembley throughout its history in professional hockey.
As a popular player on the sport’s best known team of the time, his handsome face featured regularly on adverts by Gillette razor blades in newspapers and magazines. He earned more than the top footballers of the day.
Sonny came here straight from his last junior year in the Manitoba League with Kenora Thistles. Aged 21, he made the 14-day crossing of the Atlantic aboard the liner ‘Ascania’ to join the Wembley Canadians in their first season in the brand new Empire Pool & Sports Arena.
Alternating between left wing and left defence, he helped the Canadians to lift the London Cup. Recalling that first campaign many years later, he said: “For a lad fresh out of Winnipeg, coming to play hockey at the Empire Pool in 1934 was like some fantastic dream come true.”
Though not a big man he was well-muscled, and his fearless approach to the rough game made him a favourite among the 10,000 or so fans who packed the arena before World War Two. Wembley’s enterprising owner, Arthur Elvin, iced two hockey teams and at one time or another, Rost played for both the Canadians (later named Monarchs) and the more famous Lions.
A stay-at-home defenceman, he was a clever stickhandler who could lay passes right onto a winger’s stick, while his hard-checking style earned him the grudgingly admiring nickname ‘The Clamp’ from his opponents. His skills helped the club win the National Tournament twice and the London Cup once between 1937-38 and 1939-40.
After spending World War Two as a fitter in an aircraft factory, he returned to the Lions as soon as the sport resumed with a series of challenge matches in December 1945.
When the English National League resumed for the 1946-47 season, Rost was appointed captain of the Monarchs and at the end of the campaign he was selected to the All-Star ‘B’ team. In his four terms he led the Monarchs to success in the English Autumn Cup and the International Tournament.
Late in 1948-49 he became the player-coach, and in their final winter, 1949-50, he added the role of manager as the Monarchs finished runners-up in the league, Autumn Cup and National Tournament.
Switching in 1950-51 to Wembley’s remaining side, the Lions, he stayed loyal to them throughout the decade, taking on the player-coach role from 1954-55. The Lions won the league title in 1951-52 and 1956-57 and the Autumn Cup in 1957-58.
When pro hockey collapsed at the end of season 1959-60, Sonny was 46 and had long been considered ‘the grand old man’ of Wembley, if not of British ice hockey. But his enthusiasm for the sport gave him the energy to continue with three seasons of amateur hockey.
He even made a dramatic comeback for the Lions when they returned in 1963-64, delighting the capacity crowds again, but as he was now 50 years-old it was for three games only.
Sonny played 636 league games during his post-war professional career, 1946-60, scoring 232 points (35 goals) and taking 571 penalty minutes.
Clarence Victor Rost was born on 9 March 1914 in Winnipeg, Manitoba and became the head of the British game’s oldest established family, with his son John also going on to membership of the Hall. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955 and died on 7 August 2008 in Slough, Berkshire, England.