The first-year Bruins bench boss loves the player, but not the moniker.
Look up #CliffyHockey on Twitter, and you can scroll through all the big hit GIFS and the fan love directed Connor Clifton’s way. Ask Boston Bruins Head Coach Jim Montgomery his thoughts on the 5′-11” defenseman from Matawan, New Jersey, and his style of play, but don’t expect a similar reaction.
“First of all, I do not like the term “Cliffy Hockey,” said Montgomery after Monday’s 7-3 win over the Florida Panthers. “Not from you guys (the media) using it but within our (locker) room. It’s funny; I actually spoke to him about it. I said I think it’s the way it’s brought up in the (locker) room. And the way how it was born. It was born out of maybe him being too reckless and “Cliffy Hockey” going on his own page.”
In his fifth year in the NHL, Clifton is also not a fan of the nickname.
“We talked about it the other day, we both hate it,” said Clifton when told of Montgomery’s dislike of the term. “I never really liked it honestly. It is what it is and sometimes you get a nickname and it sticks. It’s kind of what happened.”
“It’s kind of gotten the polar opposites, if I do something really good or if I do something really bad, there’s no in the middle,” said Clifton. “I’m trying to be in the middle though, I’m not going to lie.”
Under Montgomery’s stewardship, you can find Clifton right in the middle on a nightly basis. Clifton has featured in all 31 of the Bruins games this season, which didn’t happen under previous coach Bruce Cassidy’s watch. On occasions, Clifton was a healthy scratch during Cassidy’s tenure, inching his way to a career-high of 60 games last year. This season he’s pace for all 82.
“The player I see is someone who knows very much how the team is playing, is always supporting the structure of the play and has the ability because of his instincts to make “high risk-reward plays,” said Montgomery. “(Monday) was the best game he’s had in a while, and I’m happy for him.”
Clifton’s third goal of the season came halfway through the first period of Monday’s win and kicked off the scoring when he corralled a loose puck just inside the red line and carried it along the boards to cut in on net-minder Spencer Knight. Clifton wheeled around Panthers’ defenseman Josh Mahura before firing the puck toward Knight from the goal line. After circling the net, Clifton sniped his rebound over Knight’s shoulder for the 1-0 lead.
“I had some speed after the turnover they (Florida) had in the neutral zone,” said Clifton. “I tried to get it to netfront to Hallsy (Taylor Hall), it came right back to me on the other side of the net so that worked out.”
“It felt good,” added Clifton. “It always does.”
D Connor Clifton puts #NHLBruins ahead 1-0 @ 10:51 of the 1st. Assisted by Taylor Hall. #TimeToHunt #FLAvsBOS pic.twitter.com/oeb5cPKf21
— PuckingOff™ (Jason Scales) (@PuckingOff) December 20, 2022
Clifton admitted that he’d found his groove this year.
“I finally found some confidence and it’s been building since game one,” Clifton said. “I honestly think playing the more minutes earlier in the year obviously helped that. Now, my role’s more limited and I’ve been trying to play that same way with the less minutes which is obviously an adjustment. It’s been going pretty well. I had some talks with Monty (Montgomery), I think I lost my game a couple games ago. I thought (Monday) was good after two games ago because I kind of struggled honestly.”
“It’s trying to find that balance and maintain that confidence for me.”
Teammate David Krejci sees the change. After taking last year off to play in the Czech Republic, the veteran forward has noticed a difference in Clifton under Montgomery.
“Right from the beginning, he’s playing really well,” said Krejci. “He’s doing everything right. He’s not a big guy but he can throw his body around, he makes plays, and he scores some important goals as well. He’s made some huge steps since last time I saw him.”
Count Krejci as a fan of “Cliffy Hockey.”
“Exactly what it is,” said a smiling Krejci when asked what “Cliffy Hockey” means to him. “He’s a great guy, he’s fun to be around. He always has something funny to say in the dressing room. And on the ice he’s playing smart and physical. That’s a guy you want to be on the ice with.”
#CliffyHockey showing up for #NHLBruins @ 10:09 of the 3rd. Connor Clifton gets @NHLBruins on the board 4-1 #LetsGoCanes #BOSvsCAR pic.twitter.com/9RAhIvLBrw
— PuckingOff™ (Jason Scales) (@PuckingOff) May 11, 2022
“Early into the year we talked about his style and you know as D-Man in that room, you’re excited about it,” said Clifton, his maturation under Montgomery’s philosophy for offensive output from the backend.
“He likes closing plays fast and jumping up with the rush on the weak side D and we’ve been part of it all year and it’s been obviously really effective. Whatever six D are in the lineup, whatever the pairs are, it’s been extremely effective. He’s harped on that, you know, when they get in our zone and get set up, you know, we want to close in a couple seconds, Get out of the zone, and it’s obviously not gonna work every time but we’re generating offense from it.”
At 25-4-2 and first overall in the NHL, maybe it’s just “winning hockey.” #WinningHockey