Sunday, January 20, 2013


Cory Conacher's NHL Debut-2013

Cory Conacher played his first National Hockey League game last Saturday night. He scored one goal as the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Washington Capitals 6-3. Just sixteen months ago, he was invited to attend the Lightning’s training camp as an undrafted player. Since that time, he has seized the opportunity, and has blossomed as a hockey player.

Conacher player in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League in 2006-2007 for Orangeville, amassing 62 points in  48 games. He caught the attention of the hockey people at Canisius College, where he spent the next four seasons. His statistics improved year after year, and Coach Dave Smith took the opportunity to contact his good friend Pat Verbeek about Conacher.

Conacher is listed in most media guides at 5’ 8”.  As I am sure you well know, for many years smaller players have virtually been ignored by scouts. To his good fortune, Verbeek is a good judge of talent, and he is also well under six feet.

Following his stellar career at Canisius, Conacher, a distant relative of the famed Conacher family, was invited to the Lightning camp. He relished the opportunity to  play at the highest level, with the best players. Naturally, he was compared to another star, Martin St. Louis.

Following one of the training camp sessions in Fort Myers, he chuckled at the comparison. “I always hear that. But you have to understand that Marty is a star in this league, and I am just starting out. So it’s good for me to see a player like that, of that size, to use as a model. I consider the comparison as a real compliment. I work hard because I see what he’s done. He has made is easier for guys like me to be considered.”

Cory told me that he had attended Frontenac School in Burlington, Ontario. He paid a compliment to one of his teachers there. “Her name is Madame Laferiere, and, well, put it this way, she kept me honest!” He also tipped his hat to one of his high school teachers, Bob Stacey, a physical education teacher at Nelson High School.

He credited his teammates from the past year in Norfolk for his outstanding rookie year in the American Hockey League. He had moved from the college ranks to the American League quite smoothly. He won the “Red” Garrett Award as the Rookie of the Year, the Les Cunningham Award as the league’s Most Valuable Player, and helped the team capture the Calder Cup.

“Tyler Johnson, P. C. Labrie, and Trevor Smith were great teammates. They gave me tips and pointers throughout the year”.

I spoke with Coach Guy Boucher after the third day of workouts at the Germaine Arena. Boucher is a good friend of Doug Orr, a former favourite of Dukes’ hockey fans. I told Boucher I used to announce Doug’s goals as scored by “Number 14 on your score sheet, number one in our hearts.” He seemed to appreciate the levity.

Boucher talked about the job at hand. He had holes to fill in a one week camp, with no exhibition games. He paid tribute to GM Steve Yzerman for the acquisitions made in the off season, particularly in goal and on defence. When I asked him about Conacher’s chances to make the squad, he gave me one of those “excuse me, but we are not there yet” looks. Thankfully, he was not offended by my nerve.

Before the game, Conacher was quoted as saying, “I’d rather get the two points for the team, than get my first goal”. As noted, both goals were accomplished.

His cousin Dale extended his holiday in Florida to catch the first game. He’s likely sharing that event with his pals in Burlington today.

James Hurst
January 21, 2013  

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