In what promises to be a memorable night at the Leon’s Centre, the Kingston Frontenacs will turn back the clock to honor the history of the franchise, which will include honoring perhaps the most popular player in franchise history, Chris Clifford.
The Frontenacs will take on the Peterborough Petes at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. In a salute to the early days of the franchise, the Frontenacs will be wearing the original red Kingston Canadians uniforms for the game. The jersey’s will be auctioned off for charity at a later date.
Clifford, who until last season held the franchise record for most wins by a goaltender, is best known as the first OHL goalie to score a goal during a game. The monumental event happened on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 1986 at the Memorial Centre against the Toronto Marlies. He explained how the goal transpire while recording a segment of the Frontenacs’ podcast on Wednesday afternoon.
“We were up a goal and the Marlies were changing on the fly. There was a dump in at our end and I didn’t want to freeze the puck for a faceoff in our end as wins were few and far between. The Marlies sent one forechecker, so I was going to play the puck up the boards, however the forechecker peeled off, which opened up the ice,” Clifford recalled.
“So I used the one-handed backhand and luckily the puck got up on end and started rolling at their blueline. It looked like it was going to roll wide then headed back towards the net. Just as that was happening, Mike Maurice jumped on the ice from our bench, as did a player from the Toronto bench. They both ended up meeting at the crease at the same time, and Mike allowed the puck to roll into the net.”
In the true storybook fashion of the moment, there was more to the story. Clifford went on to explain, “Mike had the opportunity to put the puck in the net himself, which is significant because, had he scored, he would have recorded the fastest hat trick in either OHL or team history, but he recognized the moment. That just tells you what kind of person Mike is.”
While talking about his days with the Canadians, Clifford said that he was actually unaware about the significance of his win total until a couple of years ago. However, the one record that he was aware of was the 196 games played, which is a franchise record.
“When I got to Chicago after my last season in Kingston I met with Tony Esposito. I think he was concerned that I wasn’t a big guy and asked me if I was durable,” Clifford said.
“I said ‘Absolutely,’ and knew that all I had to do was point to my OHL games played total.”
After leaving Kingston, Clifford went on to a seven-year professional career played mostly in the old International League, which later merged with today’s American Hockey league. He appeared in two games for the Chicago Blackhawks, both of which were played at the old Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo.
When asked who he looked up to while developing his game, Clifford pointed out former Kingston Canadian Mike Moffat who was Kingston’s starting goaltender just ahead of him. He also said that former Kingston Voyageurs Head Coach Wayne Kirk had a huge influence.
“I had Wayne [as a coach] before I could tie my own skates. He did a drill with my when I was very little where he tied roped to each of the corners of the net to teach how to play angles,” Clifford recalled.
“That stayed with me my entire career.” Tomorrow is sure to be a special night at the Leon’s Centre. Honoring Chris Clifford by raising his number 29 onto the Wall of Honor is long overdue, and is recognizing a member of our community who exemplifies what it is to be an elite athlete and, more importantly, an incredible person.
Tim “The Coach” Cunningham has played every sport ever. His inside knowledge can be heard and seen on radio, television and in print across Canada. Follow him on twitter at @TheCoachTC.