Connor Clifton has a penchant for hitting. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres’ Connor Clifton knows why hit earned him two-game suspension

BUFFALO – Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton said he has watched the replay of the hit he laid on New Jersey Devils captain Nico Hischier over and over.

Clifton, who on Saturday was suspended two games by the NHL for an illegal check to the head, wishes he had approached the hit differently.

As the puck moved toward Hischier, Clifton figured the center would grab it and carry it into the Buffalo zone. When he let it pass through, Clifton thumped him along the boards in the neutral zone – “Just brushed his inside shoulder and hit him in the head,” he said – igniting a melee early in Friday’s 5-4 road loss.

“I mistimed a hit, as simple as that,” Clifton said following Saturday’s practice in KeyBank Center. “Obviously, there was head contact, which I didn’t intend to do. It’s a fast game. I watched it 100 times.”

Clifton, 28, fought Ondrej Palat and received a match penalty and automatic ejection. Hischier, meanwhile, left the game before returning in the second period. He departed again for the third period.

Devils coach Lindy Ruff told reporters Hischier will miss today’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

“First and foremost, I hope he’s OK,” said Clifton, an aggressive presence who’s known for his hitting. “… I was glad to see him come back. I’ve always tried to play hard and the right way. I think I’ve proven that.”

Clifton, who on Saturday morning had a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety, had never been fined or suspended in his 240-game NHL career.

“It’s the kind of hit you want out of the game,” he said. “Obviously, player safety, it was a good call and I gave my opinion, exactly what I’m giving now, and how I felt about it. And regardless of what he did, I guess, as a hitter, it’s your responsibility to throw the safe hit. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that.”

Clifton will miss this afternoon’s home game against the Colorado Avalanche and Wednesday’s road contest versus the Philadelphia Flyers. He will forfeit $34,722.22 in pay.

With Clifton out, defenseman Jacob Bryson, a spare defender all season, will move into the lineup. General manager Kevyn Adams said the Sabres don’t plans to recall a defenseman for Sunday’s game.

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