Syracuse Crunch forward Cory Conacher had to laugh this past Friday when he was asked about his team’s rather large crop of rookies this season. With as many as the Crunch currently as, you can’t really blame him.
“There are just so many of them,” Conacher exclaimed, a chuckle slipping out under his words.
Honestly, you almost imagine he’s talking about a litter of puppies instead of a group of professional hockey players. The question Hardev, our Toronto AHL reporter, asked was whether the 27-year-old alternate captain for the Crunch has taken a specific rookie or two under his wing. Conacher explained that with so many younger players in the dressing room, the give and take becomes much more fluid than when there’s only a small handful.
“Usually when there are only one or two of them, each older guy will give them as much advice as possible,” Conacher went on. “For these guys, there’s nine of them, so I think it’s good for them that they can learn from each other and also learn from us.”
Conacher is certainly a player who knows just as much about learning from others as he does about teaching them. Conacher was recently named a permanent alternate captain with the Crunch, so it was expected that he’d taking on a large leadership role in support of captain Erik Condra. However, he’s done his share of observing and becoming versed in the life of a professional hockey player. He’s played in 152 NHL games with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Ottawa Senators, the Buffalo Sabres, and the New York Islanders. He’s also a veteran of 236 AHL games, the majority of which have been with the Crunch.
Conacher originally came to Syracuse when the Lightning moved their affiliation there in 2012. Since then, he’s played in all of those NHL games, bounced around a little between AHL Bridgeport and AHL Utica, and played a season with SC Bern over in Switzerland. He returned to the Tampa Bay organization in 2016, and he was an irreplaceable part of the Crunch’s run to the Calder Cup final this past June.
Conacher’s varied experiences have surely given him a unique perspective on the process of development. He knows good hockey players when he sees them, and, according to him, Syracuse is simply bursting with potential:
You can tell that as the year has gone on that they’ve (the rookies) learned a lot about professional hockey and what you have to do on and off the ice. Man, they’re good players. They’re going to be big for us down the stretch, and they’re going to help us push to be a better team and get some wins. It’s nice to have those young guys get used to the way professional hockey is and to see them grow, they have a bright future.
The Crunch are in Toronto this weekend. Conacher is a Burlington, Ontario native (a suburb of Toronto). As such, playing the Marlies is about as close to a homecoming as he can get for now.
The enjoyment Conacher gets out of playing in Toronto is palpable. “It’s always fun coming back here. I tend to find energy in the crowd and the people I have in the stands, including family and friends. I have a big support system back home in Burlington, Ontario, and a lot of them make the trip down to Toronto. I build a lot of energy from them and find a way to put on a show for them. Hopefully that continues.”
Energy will probably be high on the list of things needed by this young Syracuse team this weekend. The Crunch play in Toronto today and tomorrow, so they’re facing the top team in the AHL’s North Division not once but twice in the same weekend. Toronto currently has twice the amount of points the Crunch has, 22 to Syracuse’s 11. It boasts one of the league’s most potent offenses, and features a defense that currently has the lowest goals-against total in the conference.
“It’s important for us to get off to a good start against Toronto because they can score a lot of goals; they have a lot of offensive skill, and a lot of offensive power,” Conacher pointed out. “For us, to just play the right way and keep it simple, I think we’ll be all right.”