Originally drafted in the second round – a slot not usually reserved for taking ‘just a fighter’ – Clifford was coming off point-per-game season in the OHL. But, as is often talked about, the jump from junior hockey to pro hockey is significant. Yet, with a body often described as one ‘similar to a man, not a teenager,’ the then 19-year old made the Kings roster through brut force.
In his rookie season he racked up 141 penalty minutes, tops on the team. Those numbers declined to 123 PIM in his second year, while his offense dipped a little as well – sliding from seven goals and 14 points to five goals and 12 points (despite playing more games).
Midway through this season, his third year in the league, there’s no denying Clifford has become a different player. His offense is up, the fighting is down and his confidence is at an all-time high.
Even so, his toughness remains one of his best attributes. Just ask his teammates…
– Dustin Penner on Clifford taking on the heavyweights in the league: “He’s taken on Roman Pollak and Douglas Murray. Cliffy is one of those throwback guys like Wendel Clark (Toronto Maple Leafs) when it comes to toughness. Clifford has that same mentality. A guy who would take on anyone despite the size differential. He’s even contributed with some goals this season. he has his nose in every scrum. He’s a great guy to have on your team. Doesn’t matter who comes knocking, he will always answer the bell.”
– Penner on the effect of Clifford’s style of play on the team: “It brings the team closer together. Teams always talk about being family. The way Cliffy plays is one of the reasons this team is a family.”
– Colin Fraser on Clifford fighting out of his weight class: “He’s a tough kid. He’s all about sticking up for his teammates. He had a lot of balls that time he took on Douglas Murray (then of the Sharks, now of the Penguins). That’s a guy that he’s giving up 30 or 40 pounds to.”
– Fraser on how Clifford’s fights bringing the team closer together: “It’s a good energy lift especially when you see him take on a ‘heavyweight’ like Murray. Those are two tough guys. Fighting is part of the game as long as it’s good and clean. Cliffy is a young kid who is not scared of anyone. There’s no question he has proven his toughness around the league.”
And a few thoughts from the man himself…
– Clifford on fighting out of his weight class: “When guys like Murray take cheap shots at players like Anze Kopitar I need to let them know that those hits can’t happen.”
– Clifford on the closeness of the team: “We have team where guys will stand up for each other no matter what. You saw it with Muzzin when Fraser got hit, and for me it’s part of my game. We are a tight knit group here.”
– Clifford on how playing during the lockout has helped his game: “I think it was a good decision going to the ECHL. I didn’t play a lot during our Cup run. So, I was definitely happy to get some games in. Down there I got a chance to play a lot, as they’re only playing three lines.”
– Clifford on trying to contribute more offensively this year: “In the off-season I spent more time working on the skill part of the game and a little less time in the weight room. I was really determined to do things in the off-season to try and become a more complete player.”
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About the author – Jonathan Davis is an occasional contributor to MayorsManor, as well as a 20-year veteran of sports and entertainment writing and producing. You can follow him on twitter @westcoasthky and visit his website: westcoasthky.com – plus he continues to provide content for The Hockey News and TSN in Canada.
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