Quinnipiac University junior defenseman Connor Clifton has come a long way since arriving in Hamden, CT over three years ago. The Matawan, NJ native began his collegiate career as a menacing presence on the blueline who also racked up the penalty minutes.
Today, Clifton still possesses that ultra-aggressive style. But he is far more than just a player that thrives in the physical aspects of the game. And that has tremendously benefitted his Quinnipiac team this season.
Where that has been most evident is in his increased point production. During his first two seasons combined, Clifton posted 14 points (five goals, nine assists). Last season, he didn’t tally a single goal. This season, he ranks second among all Bobcats rearguards with 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) and his seven goals co-leads the team among defensemen. As Clifton explains, offensive production from the blueline has been a contributing factor to Quinnipiac’s success this season.
“This year, I think we’ve put a lot of emphasis on our defensemen jumping into the play,” explained Clifton. “We’ve got six defensemen here that love to jump into the play and score some goals. And because of that, our defense has been a big part of our success. For me, it’s been something that I’ve had to work on. And this year especially, I’ve worked a lot on that. Now it’s showing in my game, but I’m still working on that.”
One of the most notable areas of Clifton’s development this season is the balance that he has begun to establish between his aggressive style and playing with discipline. As Clifton explains, establishing that balance has been a process that hasn’t always been easy.
“There’s that fine line that you have to be able to stay on and not cross it,” said Clifton. “Sometimes it’s difficult because the emotions are so high such as like those here in the Frozen Four. So you don’t want to take a bad penalty that’s going to hurt your team, but at the same time, you want to play your game, your gritty style and get guys off the puck.
“I think I’ve done a much better job at playing more disciplined. In the last two years, I think I’ve gotten about 160 penalty minutes combined. This year, I only have 40. So I think that’s been a big part of the process. I’ve also matured a little this year. I’m not always going for those huge hits where I’m getting a penalty for charging or something like that.”
As Clifton has matured as a player, he has also focused more attention on the details on his game, specifically on the defensive side.
“I think one area that I’ve gotten really better in this year is in my defensive side,” stated Wolanin. “I feel like I’m blocking shots better and providing more support for Mike (goaltender Michael Garteig) as well.”
Clifton did not attend the Arizona Coyotes‘ development camp last summer, but he plans to do so this summer. Although he hasn’t had much contact with them this season, Clifton is fully aware that they are watching him closely.
And the Coyotes have to be thrilled with what they are seeing.
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