By Jay Cook |
The youngest brother of three, Corey Clifton has become used to being last Clifton remaining to follow his family’s path of hockey stops.
Like older brothers Tim and Connor, Corey has played for the New Jersey Hitmen, Christian Brothers Academy and will eventually follow their footsteps to play at one of the fastest-rising collegiate hockey powerhouses in the country – Quinnipiac University.
The only thing besides age that separates this family trio apart from one another is their style of play.
“I would describe myself as a playmaker with the scoring ability too,” Clifton said before a Tuesday afternoon practice. “I think I’m a really unselfish player. If it’s between a good pass to a teammate who can score or a selfish shot, 90 percent of the time I’m going to pass the puck. I like to get everybody involved.”
While this mindset on the ice might not yield the kinds of numbers that are reserved for a double-take – he’s netted nine goals and assisted on eight more – all Clifton wants to do is win.
At a 14-4-4 record on the year, the senior has been one of the key components to a team Colts club that always seems to find its way into the conversation for top non-public team this time of the year.
Clifton and his Colts teammates were coming off a heartbreaker from Monday night, where they fell again to St. Augustine Prep, making it 0-2-1 against them in 2017. CBA lost in overtime to the tune of 6-5, which also knocked them out of the Gordon Cup race.
Despite having five teammates sidelined due to sickness, Clifton said there was still no reason why CBA couldn’t have won.
“They’re a really talented team,” he said. “We were shorthanded yesterday, but still that’s no excuse. We just have to work hard in practice and prepare for States.”
CBA surely will have enough time to forget this loss and prepare for the NJSIAA Non- Public state tournament, when they will face St. Joseph (Montvale) on Feb. 24.
Coming in as the No. 4 seed, Clifton believes the tournament will be top heavy, leaving the possibility open for a number of heavyweight bouts as it plays out over the next few weeks.
The Colts won state championships both in 2014 and 2015, when Clifton was a freshman and sophomore.
“It’s the lowest we’ve ever been since I came to CBA,” Clifton said. “I’m not really disappointed about it, but I did expect better. It’s a fair ranking since all the teams are so close this year.”
That competitive spirit is a characteristic that Clifton has had since he was a young boy, sliding a pair of skates on and gliding across the frozen pond behind his home in Matawan. It was his father Tim who perpetuated that love for the game.
He grew up a Rangers fan, and has the utmost appreciation for hockey, to the point where he’ll watch any random game, just because it’s near and dear to him.
It’s also how he fell in love with Quinnipiac University, who has made four-straight NCAA tournament appearances in a row. Clifton signed with the Bobcats last year on April 22.
“Ever since my freshman year, I’ve been going to the games. I just love the atmosphere and the coaching staff is great – I knew right when they offered me that I wanted to go there.”
The current Clifton situation at QU is also an interesting one.
Both Tim and Connor are seniors, despite a three-year age difference. After graduating from CBA, Tim stayed back to play juniors and develop. Connor, on the other hand, was drafted by in the fifth round by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2013 NHL Draft – he decided to forgo that option, and played for Team USA in the U-18 Tournament.
While Connor is a special talent, Corey said he plans to follow the blueprint paid down by Tim, the eldest. Corey will not be attending Quinnipiac immediately next fall. He wants to develop his game a bit more before making the official trip to Hamden, Connecticut.
As the conversation with Clifton finished, his team funneled out of their locker room in the Red Rink area at Wall’s Jersey Shore Arena. Through the glass, a plethora of CBA sweaters could be seen hanging, showcasing the talent that has come through those locker doors.
“The tradition is great, and that wall just shows you how much success we’ve had over the years,” Clifton said. “The culture is that we’re just one family – we play as a team.”
This article was first published in the Feb. 16-23, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times. Subscribe to the newspaper for convenient home delivery.
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