After his long journey of junior hockey, Minnesotan Carter Clafton earns a D-I commitment

Goaltender Carter Clafton, a native of Grand Rapids, Minn., has been with five different junior hockey programs. After being cut, picked up by another team, and even traded, his mental toughness

A goaltender with a navy blue and white jersey on drinks from his water bottle next to the bench.
Carter Clafton, originally from Grand Rapids, Minn., participates in warm-ups for the Amarillo Wranglers of the NAHL.
Contributed / Lauren Corea / LoCo Photography

AMARILLO, Texas — Junior hockey is not for the faint of heart.

Some players commit years of their lives to the process and will never earn a college commitment, while others impress and adapt in juniors right away and head to the NCAA the very next year.

Grand Rapids, Minnesota, native Carter Clafton has had a long and chaotic journey throughout junior hockey, but sticking with the process and staying strong mentally has finally paid off.

After being a part of five different teams, the goaltender has earned a commitment to play Division I at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Clafton grew up in Grand Rapids, a community where the sport of hockey thrives. He joined the high school varsity team the year after the Thunderhawks won the Class AA state title in 2017.


He played around 60 games for the high school squad, and was a captain his senior season, before he started his journey into the USHL.

Clafton was drafted by the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders and joined the team after the end of his senior season of high school. Although he didn't appear in any games, he was still able to suit up with the team, while skating and practicing with them.

After the USHL season ended, Clafton was then drafted by the Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks of the NAHL, a team in Connecticut.

Things didn't go as planned there, as the goaltender was cut from the team. Clafton was then sent back to the Midwest as the Bismarck Bobcats, also of the NAHL, added him to their roster instead.

Again, things didn't work out exactly to plan. The Minnesota native didn't see any playing time with the Bobcats, so the Minot Minotauros then picked him up. The goaltender made the move from Danbury, to Bismarck, to Minot, all in the same season.

Clafton's career started to look up from there. He appeared in 12 games for the Minotauros at the end of year and kept him on the roster for the next season.

The goaltender stuck with Minot for 21 games that next winter before another move was announced; he was getting traded to the Amarillo Wranglers.

Although the Minnesota native had never been to Texas before, the trade ended up being a positive experience. He finished that season with the Wranglers and had his best numbers as a goaltender with the team, and is still playing well down South.


Clafton, 20, showed mental toughness throughout the process of being cut, picked up, and then traded, when many other players may have simply given up.

That attitude, along with his growth in the NAHL, recently earned him a commitment to play Division I hockey at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

"The academic opportunities there are really second to none. It's obviously got a really good curriculum and it's really unique compared to any other school in the country," Clafton said about the program.

The Falcons earn a commitment from a 6-foot-2 goaltender who has shown that he has the mental toughness to compete at the D-I level.

"I try to play athletically, use my skating to cut down angles on shooters and I battle to keep the puck out of the net," said the Minnesota native on his strengths.

Clafton is currently 3-4-1 with the Wranglers this season where he has posted a .913 save percentage and has a 2.54 goals-against-average. He also was named the NAHL Goaltender of the Month in September 2022.

The netminder has been soaking up the warm weather in Amarillo, Texas, lately and enjoys spending his free time golfing and enjoying the outdoors.

He is set to join the Falcons next fall where he will start his Division I career.


St. Cloud State is officially ranked in the national polls this week, the first time since 2009. Minnesota State still lurks outside of the top-15 and receives votes.

Sydney Wolf is a reporter for The Rink Live, primarily covering youth hockey. She joined the team in November of 2021 and graduated from St. Cloud State University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and a minor in Writing and Rhetoric Studies and was a part of the University Honors Program.
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