Kyle Clifford is a simple man, he makes no bones about it.
From the game he plays on the ice, to the lifestyle he leads off it, there are no secrets. It’s point A to point B and he’s happy every step of the way.
While some of his teammates have been off getting married or taking exciting vacations this summer, the 22-year old forward has been home training by day, relaxing with friends and family by night.
After the Kings were eliminated by the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, even Clifford’s return home was as basic as they come.
“I ended up driving back from Los Angeles,” he told MayorsManor. “It took me two days to do that and then I probably took four or five days to relax and get my life in order back home, then I got right back at it and started training.”
It’s a similar routine followed by teammate Colin Fraser, pack up in LA and drive back to Canada.
“I enjoy driving,” Clifford said. “I have a big truck too, so it’s comfortable to drive in. It’s nice to see a bit of the States and across the country. It’s a fun drive, it can be a bit annoying sometimes, but I just enjoy it. I just drive and pretty much have the country music going the whole time, just get in a groove. When I need to sleep, I sleep; and when I need to eat, I eat.”
Keeping it simple, always.
He was quick to point out one major difference compared to Fraser’s road trips though.
“No Nickelback! I know Fraz probably has all their albums blaring the whole way back home, but not me.”
Clifford was also content staying home in his small town outside of Toronto last month, rather than making the hour drive over to London for Drew Doughty’s softball tournament.
“I’m not a baseball player,” he quipped. “I’ll sit on the sidelines and drink a beer.”
Originally drafted by the Kings in the second round at the 2009 NHL Draft, the 6-foot-2, 209 pounder immediately impressed team officials at Development Camp that summer and again a few months later – with then-assistant coach Mark Hardy dubbing him the MVP of Rookie Camp.
When all the talk was centered on top prospect Brayden Schenn a year later, it was Clifford who made the team out of training camp and went on to have a solid rookie season, including being one of the most productive players during the playoffs.
He backed that up with second year numbers nearly equaling his rookie campaign. Unfortunately though, he was injured early in the 2012 playoffs and was limited to just three games while the Kings went on their 16-4 run to the Stanley Cup.
When the lockout hit last fall, Clifford signed on with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign.
“It was really good for me,” he said by phone on Thursday. “It worked out well, as far as finding confidence early. When you’re down at that level, I was playing almost every-other shift. So, I had a chance to work on my development process and conditioning and to get ready. When the lockout ended I was ready to hit the ground running.”
Clifford also credited new LA assistant coach Davis Payne for contributing to his success this year.
“He can definitely critique the game really well. As far as off-ice stuff, like video, he really broke the game down and did a good job with me and made it easy to understand. It just helped my game a lot too.”
With seven goals and 14 points last season, Clifford matched his career high; however, he did it in just 48 games. Yet, even though all the work put in seemed to have paid off, he still believes he has more to offer.
“I just want to continue to work at my game. I don’t want to change it. I want to make my game better and move up the ladder. I want to push for more minutes. I think I can contribute with more than just a fourth line role. That’s my goal. I think if I have that mindset, it will either push guys to be better or it will help the team out in the end.”
It’s also the playoff loss from a few months ago that still stings quite a bit.
“I think we were all on the same page with that loss in Chicago, it hit us pretty hard,” Clifford explained. “It was pretty devastating because we knew the type of team and type of character we had and we knew what we were capable of. Obviously, coming off the Stanley Cup the year before, it was definitely disappointing. I think it adds some motivation to our team’s summer training.”
He’s also a bit introspective about not making it back to the Stanley Cup Final for a second straight year.
“As an individual, you always look back and think of the things that you wish you would have done a little differently or a little better. For that series, I think to be more of a physical presence would have maybe helped it. At the end of the day though, it is what it is. They won and we lost. We just have to be better prepared next season.”
When camp opens in September, the Kings will feature a few new faces, including left wing Dan Carcillo – somebody Clifford will likely be battling for playing time early on.
“He’s a tough player and he knows how to agitate,” Clifford remarked. “He does his job really well. I think he’s one of the best in the game at what he does, as far as agitation goes. He knows how to get under team’s skins. So, I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
Perhaps being part of the Kings almost didn’t come to pass though. Various credible sources said the King were shopping him recently, with Edmonton and Montreal two of the teams he was most commonly liked to.
Part of that makes sense. As reported all summer, the Kings are up against the salary cap and after picking up Carcillo – who will likely make about half of what Clifford will next year – it was a reasonable assumption.
Still, Clifford and his agent continued to press forward.
“I left a bit of that process to him,” Clifford explained. “Obviously, I wanted to take part in it. But, when we discussed it on the phone, after the call ended, I’d just leave it alone and let him worry about it instead of me stressing about it.”
They now have a two-year deal in place, as we reported earlier today.
As for the money, well, Clifford probably said it best – “Whatever it ends up being, it’s going to be good money; better than shoveling shit for $10-an-hour, like I used to do when I was a teenager.”
And those trade rumors?
“You can’t invest too much time into those things and start stressing yourself out. I really took it with a grain of salt. I’m set on being a King. I love our team, I love our core group and I think we’re going to win more Stanley Cups.”
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