Conacher Staying Positive While Working Way Back to NHL

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Cory Conacher knew he was on the bubble.

After being one of the last players cut by the Tampa Bay Lightning during training camp, the forward has gotten off to a fast start with the Syracuse Crunch. Conacher earned his first call-up and played one game Saturday, but was returned to the Crunch Sunday.

Conacher is keeping a positive attitude as he continues to work towards another call-up.

“You don’t worry about too much. You just control what you can control,” Conacher said. “You just have to be ready for that next call. Whether it’s one game, a 10-game stint or the rest of the year, you’ve just got to be ready for whatever happens.”

Conacher recorded one shot in 13:26 of ice time for the Lightning in a 3-1 loss to the Devils Saturday. The 26-year-old began his NHL career with Tampa Bay in 2012-13, but was traded at the 2013 deadline to the Ottawa organization and had stints with Buffalo and the New York Islanders over the next couple season.

Conacher was excited to play in his first NHL game since Dec. 4, 2014.

“Obviously, like I said during the summer, it’s a dream come true to be back with the Tampa organization,” Conacher said. “To be able to play in the game and wear their jersey again was another dream. Hopefully I get another opportunity. Overall, I think I played a pretty good game.”

Conacher has continued his point-per-game pace in the American Hockey League. The 2011-12 league MVP has registered two goals and three assists in five games this season, and has 158 points in 171 AHL regular season contests.

“The way he practices every day and the way he plays, he’s sending the message that he’s not buying a house here,” Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx said. “He wants to play in the NHL. That’s what we like about him. He’s a competitor and he knows what he can bring to a team. I like what I see from him.”

Conacher decided to take his talents to Europe last season. The 5-8, 180-pounder recorded 52 points in 48 regular season games and added nine points in 14 playoff contests.

Conacher still wanted to give it one more shot to make the NHL.

“I wanted to give it one more chance,” the Burlington, Ontario native said. “I think if I stayed over there and didn’t give it one more chance, I feel like I might have regretted it. We’ll see how this year turns out. Hopefully I’ll get called up again and I’ll get to stay a little longer next time.”

Conacher believes his time in Europe was a good learning experience. The winger said he’s more confident with the puck, is better at finding teammates and has worked more on rounding out his defensive game.

“I play better when I have the puck, and I play better when I’m shooting and creating those offensive chances,” Conacher said. “Before I went over to Europe, those last couple NHL games and even in the AHL a little bit, the puck was on and off my stick a little too much. I wasn’t taking my time with it.”

While his on-ice style hasn’t changed since his last stint with Syracuse in 2012-13, Conacher is looking to be a veteran presence in the room.

“I’ve obviously matured a little bit, and now I can take what I’ve learned over the past couple years and pass it along to the younger guys on this team,” Conacher said. “As for as the role, I still like to be that little honey badger type of player. I like to get into the dirty areas, be around the net and cause some chaos.”

Conacher is focused on what he can do this season instead of what lies ahead, whether it’s the AHL, NHL or Europe.

“If things don’t go as planned, maybe there’s a future in Europe for me,” Conacher said. “But for right now, I’m worried about Tampa Bay and the organization and here in Syracuse as well. I think this is a team and organization that can be very successful this year. I think there are big things coming, and hopefully I can be a big part of that.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Cory Conacher looks to make a pass against the Comets at the Onondaga County War Memorial on Oct. 21.