HAMDEN, Conn. — Time is winding down in Quinnipiac’s game against Northeastern on Oct. 8.
With just over a minute to go, Tim Clifton is a yellow blur flying past the Northeastern bench on a break. He beats the defender down the ice and slides the puck into the empty net to secure Quinnipiac’s first win of the season.
As he celebrates with his teammates, one of his defenders comes into the celebration huddle to give Tim a hug. This isn’t any defender – it’s his brother, Connor.
There’s a special bond between brothers. One minute, they’re best friends, and the next, it’s the heat of competition. Both brothers are competing with each other to be better, and that’s good news for Quinnipiac who is banking on the brothers to help propel the program back to the national championship game.
When the horn sounded after the national championship game in April, speculation began as to which Quinnipiac players would return for the 2016-17 season. All-American junior Sam Anas left early to sign with the Minnesota Wild and many Bobcat fans were wondering if the Clifton brothers would return for their senior campaign.
It wouldn’t have been a surprise after the impressive seasons both Cliftons had last year. Connor Clifton was selected in the fifth round by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2013 NHL Draft and had an impressive postseason for Quinnipiac, earning the ECAC tournament’s MVP award and was named to the All-Frozen Four Team.
That said, junior defenseman Devon Toews left school this past April to sign an NHL deal with the New York Islanders.
While Connor has helped anchor the defense, Tim emerged as a power play specialist and as a key offensive contributor. Last season, Tim finished the season with 33 points, but found the back of the net on the power play eight times. With both key pieces for the Bobcats’ run to Tampa last season, it was easy to see why fans thought they had seen the Clifton brothers in a Quinnipiac uniform for the final time.
Luckily for coach Rand Pecknold and Quinnipiac fans, both Cliftons have returned for their senior years.
The expectations for both the brothers and the program are high entering this season. Quinnipiac was picked second in the USCHO Preseason Division I Men’s Poll and was voted as the preseason favorites to win the ECAC.
As for the Cliftons, both made the preseason All-Conference Team and were the only ones to represent the Bobcats.
Despite the offseason of uncertainty, both brothers were excited for their senior years. For Tim, the decision to return may not have been easy, but he knows it was the right one.
“It was a hard decision, but was happy about the outcome,” said Tim. “I love this university and while I can only speak for myself, I definitely made the right decision. I love this team and I love this program. I had a year of eligibility left to play, [so] why waste it? I mean, where else would you rather be?”
While the Cliftons both ultimately made the choice to return, they are looking to finish their college careers strong. One advantage that Tim and Connor both have is a healthy sibling that helps both push themselves to be the best players they can be.
“We do have that healthy brother rivalry,” noted Connor. “We also love that sense of brotherhood here. It was great having Tim there during the summer for training, such as the off-ice. We push each other and it’s great to have someone to do that for you.”
Quinnipiac has utilized this healthy sibling rivalry to its advantage in the past. The school has had a few different pairs of brothers in recent years such as the Renouf, Pieper and Jones brothers. However, this competitive sibling rivalry theme seems to have paid of for Pecknold in recent years with the second most wins in the NCAA since 2012-13.
Still, the underlying reason why the Clifton’s returned to Hamden was because of the unfinished business from last April, when Quinnipiac fell for the second time on four years in the national championship game, this time to North Dakota.
“As the seasons have progressed, so have the expectations of this program,” Tim said. “We’re at the point where we are expected to be at the top of the ECAC, being in the NCAA tournament, and making a run. However, as far as we are concerned, it’s business as usual.”
The spotlight has never been brighter on Quinnipiac. With two national championship appearances and four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the Bobcats have established themselves as a national contender.
In order for Quinnipiac to make another run in the tournament, the Clifton boys will both need to make an impact.