We don't really know what would have been in store for the undersized and overachieving Cory Conacher had there been no lockout this season.
Chances are the 22-year-old forward from Burlington, Ont. just may have earned a spot on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster out of training camp. Why not? He has bucked the odds so many times before.
This 5-foot-8, 179-pound kid with the famous hockey surname has endured type 1 diabetes since age eight and has overcome his lack of size on the rink all his life.
Nobody wanted him in the OHL. No problem. He went to Canisius College in Buffalo and became the school's all-time leader in points (147), goals (62) and game-winning goals (12) in 129 games.
Last season, his first full year as a pro, Conacher helped the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup championship. You know, the team that went on that incredible pro record setting 28-game win streak in the regular season.
He was named AHL rookie of the year and winner of the Les Cunningham Award as the league's most valuable player to become only the fourth player to win both trophies in the same year. Bill Hicke (Rochester, 1958-59), Pelle Lindbergh (Maine, 1980-81) and Stephan Lebeau (Sherbrooke, 1988-89) were the others to accomplish the feat.
But instead of being in Tampa Bay to start the season, he'll be with the Syracuse Crunch, where the Lightning moved their AHL affiliate after last season.
"I'm not upset that the NHL is not playing right now," Conacher said. "I know the lockout has affected different players in different ways and some guys are have had to find other places to play.
"For me, I still have to prove myself, I still have to continue to improve and play hard. I can't get too big headed.
"[Lightning general manager] Steve Yzerman is all about development. It's important that I build off of last year day-in and day-out and not get too comfortable."
Yzerman did take notice of Conacher's development last season. The Lightning signed him to a two-year, $1.7-million US contract last March.
Canisius head coach Dave Smith of Arthur, Ont., pulled in a favour with his friend and Lightning assistant GM Pat Verbeek to get Conacher a training-camp invite a year ago. He played a few exhibition games alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis and impressed the Lightning's brass enough to earn an AHL contract.
"It was huge," said Conacher, when asked what playing on the same line as St. Louis and Stamkos did for his confidence. "St. Louis was one of my biggest idols growing up.
"We're the same size. He has that grit that has allowed him to play as long and as well as he has.
"He was one of my biggest mentors in training camp and that was very important to learn from him. He showed me what to expect if I do get the call up."
'Never use diabetes as an excuse'
St. Louis urged Conacher to use his skating ability to his advantage, emphasizing to keep a good pace and not to slow down to allow the defence to catch up.
Conacher never has allowed his diabetes condition to slow him down. When he is not playing he has an insulin pump attached to his hip to control his sugar levels.
"I've always said that I will never use diabetes as an excuse," he said. "I use a pump called Medtronic that has helped me monitor my blood sugar.
"It's important that my blood sugar is always at a good level, otherwise the coaching staff will see the fatigue set in. I take pride in eating well and getting proper sleep and making sure that my blood sugar levels are at the proper levels, especially on game day, so I can't use that as an excuse in case I have a bad game."
Conacher also gets noticed because of his last name. He is a distant relative to Hockey Hall of Famers Lionel, Charlie and Roy Conacher. They were cousins of his great grandfather.
When Cory Conacher was younger, he did more than his share of school projects on his famous relatives.
"It really has been a name to live up to," he said. "Hopefully, one day I can have careers like they did and play in the NHL."
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