Fine, it doesn’t have the same ring as ‘Taking his talents to South Beach,’ however, Kyle Clifford is on the move. As reported yesterday, the 21-year old forward has signed a contract with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign.
He joined the team for his first practice on Tuesday, followed by another one earlier today. After completing his scheduled time on the ice, the 6-foot-2 Canadian checked in with MayorsManor to provide some clarity on the entire situation.
In an interesting note, it was former Kings assistant coach Mark Hardy – now an assistant in Ontario – who helped convince Clifford to join the Reign. Although Hardy primarily works with the defensemen, Clifford remembered the longtime NHL blueliner from his first training camp in LA and noted to us that the two share a similar philosophy on how the game should be played.
Frequent readers of MayorsManor probably remember Hardy called Clifford the MVP of Rookie Camp that first year and he gushed over the upside of the then 18-year old prospect, whom the Kings had selected in the second round of the NHL Draft a few months prior.
But why now and why Ontario (similar to the question we’ve asked nearly every member of the Kings who’s inked a deal elsewhere during the lockout)? In response, Clifford repeatedly used the phrase ‘good fit.’ For him, that primarily meant two things – the proximity to LA (he wasn’t interested in going overseas, getting settled and then turning around to come back to the States should the lockout end) and it being a perfect match for his style of play.
The Kings’ third-year pro also noted that in places like Germany, teams are looking for “high-end, big name players to sell tickets.” Clifford understands that he’s early in his NHL career and hasn’t established the same reputation as guys like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Although other young Kings players – namely Alec Martinez and Jonathan Bernier – found offers in Europe, those teams had a specific need.
That’s all just fine and well with Clifford too. He was looking for a league that played a more physical style – “where they like to crash and bang bodies” – and with the AHL not being open to him, the ECHL was a natural landing spot.
While preparing to play his first competitive game since June, Clifford described his conditioning as “just fine” and credits the work he’s been putting in with a handful of other NHL players over the last two months at the Kings’ training facility in El Segundo. So, in preparation for his ECHL debut in San Francisco on Friday, he thinks he needs to work on getting his timing back more than anything else – something that he feels requires real game action, not just practice sessions and charity games.
Saturday night Clifford and the Reign will be in Bakersfield and then it’s back to Southern California for a few days off before he makes his home debut next Wednesday night vs. the Orlando Solar Bears.
If you’re looking for him on the ice, don’t expect to see him in his familiar number 13. That’s worn by Colton Yellow Horn and Clifford wasn’t about to ask him to give it up.
“I’m not that guy,” he said. “I’m not looking to come in here and bully my way around. That number was already taken and so was 23. So, I just kept going up and now I’m working on getting 33.”
In typical Clifford fashion, he’s more concerned with what’s happening on the ice.
“I’m lucky enough to be part of a great situation here in Ontario. I’m not that worried about my number. We have a lot of good players on this roster, including Devin Setoguchi of the Wild and several other talented guys. I’m just looking forward to getting out there and using my body to make plays and help the team in anyway I can.”