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Clifford coming up big for Monarchs

by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com

Morning skates don’t carry much more importance than the one Manchester rookie forward Kyle Clifford went through with the Monarchs on May 7.

Coach Mark Morris was in a tight spot with no room for a wrong move. He needed more size and skill up front, and Clifford (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) fit the bill on both counts. Trouble was, Clifford had just joined the team from his junior season with Barrie of the OHL. The morning workout was Morris’ only chance to evaluate him before deciding whether to dress him against Worcester in Game 6 of the Atlantic Division finals that night.

"He made a few nifty plays around the net that a few guys here might be challenged to make," Morris said. "He had a lot of jump in his step and a strong stick. He provided a pretty good picture as to how he might do in a game."

It was enough for Morris to give Clifford, 19, some ice time that really mattered. He dressed Clifford for the series-clinching win against Worcester and hasn’t second-guessed himself since.

Clifford got his first pro point with an assist in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against Hershey on May 12, and picked up another in Game 2 on May 15.

"I didn’t really expect to get into any games, maybe have a little bit of a sniff," Clifford said. "The first game, I was feeling a little bit of frogs, or butterflies, in the pit of my stomach. But being around the guys makes you comfortable. You have to come to play here, or else you are not going to do very well."

Clifford, a second-round pick by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2009 Entry Draft, has a keen sense of his responsibilities. Besides scoring 28 goals and 57 points for Barrie this season, he also picked up 111 penalty minutes. After Manchester fell behind Hershey 2-0 in Game 1, he took it upon himself to try to fire up the Monarchs by scrapping with the Bears’ Steve Pinizzotto.

"Every player on the team has a role. I try to bring what I can to the table," he said.

Unless he makes the Kings, Clifford likely will return to Barrie in 2010-11. He will do so, though, with a plate full of valuable leftovers from his stretch in Manchester.

"Playoffs (in the AHL) is a whole different story. The compete level is a lot higher," Clifford said. "I feel more comfortable every day I’m here. Physically, I think I can keep up with these guys. I’m going to take what I learn from here and bring it to my junior team next year."

Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com. Read today’s complete column here.