The following article was posted on www.nhl.com on May 28th featuring former Quinnipiac University standout Connor Clifton.
By Shawn P. Roarke
Clifton arrived at Bruins training camp last season and found himself matched against veteran David Backes, a prototypical NHL power forward. Clifton (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) went toe-to-toe with Backes, who is four inches taller and 40 pounds heavier.
"I was an 11-year vet and he was a new guy on the scene, and he didn't pull any punches with me," said Backes, who sits in a neighboring stall in the locker room and has gotten to know Clifton better during the past few months. "He was going after me. I was a little [upset] at first, but then take a step back and say that is the kind of kid [who] has the drive and the ability to make an impact because he has that inner burning fire whoever he is against."
Joel Edmundson learned the same lesson the hard way Monday. The 6-foot-4 Blues defenseman thought he had Clifton tied up when he pinched into the offensive zone during a rush by Bruins center Sean Kuraly. Instead, Clifton powered to the net and was able to get enough of Kuraly's pass to redirect it past goalie Jordan Binnington.
"I didn't see [the puck]," Clifton said. "I saw the pass come across and then I didn't see it. I felt it hit me and then it went up and then I saw guys [celebrating] and knew it was a good goal."
That blend of tenaciousness, recklessness and skill was dubbed "Cliffy Hockey" when he was playing for Providence of the American Hockey League. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has appropriated the nickname and has learned to live with some of the mistakes inherent in the sometimes freewheeling play of the 24-year-old.
After all, he's still learning.
Clifton signed an AHL contract with Providence on Aug. 16, 2017, then was scratched multiple times in his first season. He began this season 11th on Boston's depth chart for defensemen, but played 19 NHL games because of injuries. Clifton has parlayed that audition into a regular role during the Stanley Cup Playoffs; he's played in 13 of Boston's 18 games and has four points (two goals, two assists) after managing one assist during the regular season.
"He's a gamer," Cassidy said. "I think he competes hard, has lots of courage. He's slowly found what he can do at this level, what makes him successful. I think he's a real effective player with his feet moving because the game comes a little bit naturally when he's moving. When he's not moving he's an average player, and that's when he can get exposed."
Clifton played during his teenage years at Christian Brothers Academy, near his hometown of Matawan, New Jersey. The school has produced several NHL players, including Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and San Jose Sharks defenseman Joakim Ryan. Clifton's older brother, Tim, three years his senior, plays for San Jose of the AHL.
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