Connor Clifton plays a rugged style that irritates opponents. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres’ Rasmus Dahlin ‘hated to play against’ new partner Connor Clifton

BUFFALO – Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton heard his new teammate, Rasmus Dahlin, feared him during his days with the Boston Bruins, and couldn’t believe it.

“He said that?” Clifton asked a reporter following Thursday’s opening session of training camp in KeyBank Center.

Dahlin sure did. He detested playing against Clifton, who relishes showcasing an aggressive, physical style that riles opponents.

“On the ice, you see his toughness,” Dahlin said. “I remember playing him in Boston; I was scared of him. I hated to play against him.”

Now, Dahlin has an opportunity to play beside the 5-foot-11, 192-pound Clifton. They’ve been skating together in the opening days of training camp, including in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“He’s a fun player to watch,” said Clifton, a right-handed shot. “It’s even more fun playing next to him.”

Dahlin, 23, has quickly found he and Clifton, 28, “kind of see hockey at the same style.” For example, he said Clifton also plays tenaciously in the defensive zone.

While it’s early and the defense pairs will eventually be jumbled, Sabres coach Don Granato likes what he sees from the duo.

“They both read and play the same together,” said Granato, who coached Clifton in junior. “One’s moving off the other and they’re showing experience.”

Of course, other Sabres loathed facing Clifton. After they signed him to a three-year, $9.99 million contract in free agency July 1, captain Kyle Okposo called him.

“He was like, ‘Honestly, thank God we’re playing together,’” Clifton said. “That was good. I mean, I tried to bring that style but you don’t talk to too many opposing players. It’s good to hear.”

Sabres center Peyton Krebs fought Clifton on Dec. 31 in Boston. About two shifts later, Krebs cracked his head on the ice. Clifton asked him if he was OK and said, “Nice fight.”

“We kind of cleared it up there,” Krebs said.

Krebs said when you play against Clifton, “he has a presence.”

“This year, he’s the exact opposite, just a super nice guy, a little teddy bear,” he said.

Clifton brings more than a physical edge. Having spent the first six years of his career in Boston’s organization, he comes from a winning background.

“It’s contagious, right?” Clifton said of winning. “You bring it every day. I think I’ve learned that the past five years playing (in the NHL) with some obviously great people and great players. … You feel it in the room, right?”

This afternoon’s preseason opener on the road against the Washington Capitals begins a stretch of five games in seven days for the Sabres, including contests Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

With about 60 healthy players on the camp roster, stocking the lineups won’t be a problem.

“We get into these games, I’m more interested in seeing Rochester guys and prospect guys in this phase,” Granato said.

He said goalies Eric Comrie, Devon Levi and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen will each start one of the first three games and play two periods.

The Sabres received a scare in the waning seconds of the scrimmage when Dahlin hurried off the ice holding his hand after blocking a shot. He said he’s fine.

“All good,” he said.

The Sabres on Saturday trimmed their camp roster for the first time, sending winger Ethan Miedema and goalie Scott Ratzlaff back to their junior teams.

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