By Kyle Clifford
My story begins at age three, in Ayr, Ontario...
I was only three years old when I first skated in my hometown, which has a population of about 3,000 people. They had these big orange pylons and I’d grab one of those and skate around with it because I couldn’t really stand on my feet too well.
I have lived in Ayr since I was one. I was actually born in Kitchner but obviously I don’t have any memories of Kitchner as a kid. I was too young.
Ayr is more of a farm and trekking town. It’s a really small town with a really tight community. When it comes to hockey, they have a good program there, especially when you consider that it is a town of 3,000. There’s only one other player who ever played at that rink who played in the NHL and that was Jay Wells, who also played here with the Kings. His jersey is hanging in the rafters there.
|Kyle Clifford grew up in the same hometown, Ayr, as former King Jay Wells did many years ago. |
It was great that Jay was in LA recently as part of training camp. That was one thing I always looked forward to and he’s a big name in our town. It’s kind of a good feeling that we were both able to start playing wearing the same jersey. That was also actually the first time I ever met him before. He’s actually from Paris but he played for the Flames there growing up.
When I first started playing hockey, it started out as my two older brothers playing and I got right into it. Right away I knew that I had a real passion for the game. They didn’t get too far into it but I just kept playing and working at it.
My first couple of years in Ayr we’d play and switch positions. I’d play goalie a few games or play defense or play forward. It was probably when I was around 5 or 6 I stuck to forward.
At the age of 10, I stared to participate in travel hockey. That was in 2000. I went to Cambridge and played out of their program for about six years, or until I went to the Ontario League.
Being from Ayr I followed the Toronto Maple Leafs. I always considered the NHL to be the best hockey league in the world and I always would pretend to be Mats Sundin out on the ice or in road, or street hockey.
Toronto is about an hour's drive from Ayr and it seems that everyone in Ayr is a big Leafs fan. Toronto is the closest NHL city but after I got drafted by Los Angeles, I converted over to L.A. there and then.
Still you can’t take away the memories of the Leafs I had as a kid, even though they didn’t have a ton of success. Watching Sundin play, though, was the best. And it was great on those rare occasions that we would get to go to a Leafs game. I only went to a Leafs game two or three times when I was younger. I only went whenever we had a chance to get free tickets since it was pretty expensive.
|Clifford shakes hands with GM Dean Lombardi on draft day 2009. (Getty Images) |
As I was getting older, when I was playing travel hockey that is when the chance to maybe playing junior hockey became a goal of mine. I was drafted by the Barrie Colts and it was, needless to say, a pretty exciting day. We had a pretty good travel team so we had about six players drafted to the OHL. It was real exciting for my family. I remember my mom and dad were pretty thrilled.
Barrie is about an hour and one half from Ayr, and I lived there with a billet family. That situation wasn’t too bad at all but some kids have some trouble with it. It was a little different at first but I had two great billet families. They took me in really well and took care of me. My parents weren’t too far away either.
With the Colts I enjoyed a lot of highlights. Last year was probably the biggest one as we were ranked number one in Canada and we had a 22-game win streak. We went to the finals in the playoffs, the farthest we ever went in my three years there. It was a pretty exciting time.
Before my last year with Barrie I got drafted by the Kings. Prior to the Draft I was ranked like 182nd. But I knew that was just a number and in the end it doesn’t matter where you get drafted or what happens so I just kept my head up. I wasn’t surprised to go in the second round, though, as I had a pretty good idea that Central Scouting didn’t really like me too much.
When I was drafted it was the best feeling, it was a great feeling. L.A. was the team I wanted to go to after I left my meeting with them prior the draft. I knew this was a winning organization and it was what I wanted to be a part of.
When I first got here it was a whole different world from Ayr, Ontario. Back home there’s a lot of trees and farmland and not a lot of people. Out here people say there are a lot of materialistic people but I think there are a lot of great people down here. Everyone I’ve met has been very welcoming, so L.A. has been great.
|Kyle Clifford joined the Manchester Monarchs at the end of last season. |
Last year I also experienced pro hockey for the first time with Manchester. That, I think, was a good to start my pro career. It was a good experience to be coached by Mark Morris and Scott Pellerin there. I took in a lot and learned a lot and it got me prepared for this summer. I learned what I need to do and what kind of mentality I need to bring to the rink and gym everyday in my off-season training.
Off-season training is something that I pride myself in. I think it was a great idea for me to come down here and train with Tim Adams and I had a trainer back home, Larry with SST Sports and Conditioning, and they both got me prepared mentally and physically to be ready for this season.
When I came to camp this year, my goal was to make the team and stick around the whole year. After camp broke, and I started to think what my first NHL game would be like, I would say that I will probably be a little nervous. But at the same time I’m just going to try to prepare like it’s any other game, though I know it won’t be. I basically want to go out there and have fun.