BOSTON — Connor Clifton has exceeded all expectations as a professional hockey player, but he, like any athlete, occasionally still needs a proper dose of humble pie.
The 24-year-old blueliner was a healthy scratch for Monday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks as Bruce Cassidy elected to role with veteran Steven Kampfer on the Bruins’ third defensive pairing. Clifton started in the Boston’s first five games after emerging as a key contributor in last season’s Stanley Cup Final.
For Cassidy, the switch presents an opportunity to teach Clifton what it takes to stick in the NHL.
“(Kampfer’s) been working hard,” the Bruins head coach said before Monday’s game at TD Garden. “Cliffy’s playing well, not dominant well, but he’s done his job. But we’re gonna get Steven in a game and see how it goes.”
” … It’s a bit of a message to Cliffy, too, that ‘You’re not automatically gonna go in every night. You gotta do your part and continue to get better and work hard in practice.’ ”
However, the decision also is as much about Kampfer, a consummate pro who answered when called upon during the postseason and has earned the right to see game action.
“He’s grown, he’s a good pro that way,” Cassidy said. “That’s one of the reasons we re-signed him, he might be in a similar role (as last season), and here he is today. We also want to reward him for his work and doing that part of the job.”
Clifton has become a fan favorite during his short time in Boston, with his aggressive, fearless style of play being dubbed “Cliffy Hockey” somewhere along the way. Whether the Quinnipiac product is a regular NHL defenseman still remains to be seen, but he nevertheless has shown the ability to make an impact on the highest level.
That said, Clifton still is in the student phase of his NHL career. How he reacts to Monday’s hard lesson will say a lot about who he is as a player.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images