Comets Tales: Cory Conacher

by Don Laible

Apr 27, 2015

The Calder Cup playoffs have returned to The AUD after 22 years. Having Cory Conacher, who netted six goals in the final nine regular-season games, in the line-up couldn’t be more welcoming.

How many times has it been said, “There’s no substitute for experience?”

As the Comets’ second year as the primary affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks rapidly ends, there is much to be excited about. One year ago Travis Green’s boys narrowly missed out on playoff participation. This season, the Comets captured the North Division and Western Conference regular-season championships.

Busing it back to Utica after a 6-5 shootout loss on April 15, the Comets had many positives to take back with them. Conacher tallied his sixth goal as a Comet since coming over in a trade from the New York Islanders organization on March 2. The stats are impressive for the former Canisius College star center.

In 18 games since trading jerseys with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Conacher has delivered at a steady and uninterrupted pace (6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points). Long after the ice has melted for the summer at The AUD, March 2 will be remembered as a critical day in the Comets’ short history.

Sven Baertschi came over from Adirondack in a trade, and Conacher from skating in Connecticut. For Conacher, it’s been skates on the gas ever since. With his playoff resume, Conacher is someone the Comets can rely on.

Already at the age of 25, Conacher has experienced the ultimate run in Calder Cup play. Just three seasons back, Conacher was part of the Cup-winning Norfolk Admirals. Then a Tampa Bay affiliate, it would be only fitting that Conacher and his teammates collected Calder rings.

Undrafted, Conacher made believers out scouts and player personnel directors that perhaps due to his diminutive stature (5-foot-8, 180lbs.), took a pass on him. The 2011-12 AHL season closed its books with the Admirals not only winning the Cup, but doing so in the grandest of style – a 28-game regular-season winning streak.

With Conacher snatching nearly every offensive award, he led the team to a regular-season record of 55-18-0-3. The final game of the season saw Norfolk visiting Glens Falls. As a testament to finding his scoring groove all season long, Conacher wrote the last chapter of the season by scoring a hat trick against the home team Phantoms.

For Conacher, the spoils of having an amazing year were backed up with what must have been a larger-than-normal mantel. The Les Cunningham Award (regular-season MVP) and the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award (most outstanding rookie) were richly deserved, and a foregone conclusion as the Admirals headed home from playing their season finale in Glens Falls.

Conacher also was included among the All-Rookie team and the Second All-Star team to go along with collecting a Calder Cup ring. He registered 80 points in 75 games.

It’s this playoff pedigree that strengthens the Comets’ overall venture into the unknown that makes Conacher’s insert into the line-up invaluable. “Been there, done that,” as far as Conacher’s work goes, can’t be underscored.

Finding his way through 11 teams in his five pro seasons has brought Conacher to the Comets – at the right place during the right time. Maybe all it takes to keep Conacher in Utica is the hunger to lend his support in bringing a Cup to a second-year franchise. Maybe it’s proving all over again that there is a place for him in the NHL. One thing is for sure, the journey remains anything but dull for Conacher.

Although in sports, particularly when judging the strengths and weaknesses of specific positions, it is said that size doesn’t matter. There are countless athletes who were either denied their dream without getting to prove themselves because a scout or general manager labeled someone “too small.”

You can’t get around the idea that Conacher, who has been producing “lights out” for the Comets, has not been able to find stability in the NHL because of his size. Stops in Tampa, Ottawa, Buffalo, and the Islanders haven’t worked out for Conacher, a veteran of 141 NHL games. There perhaps is hope for Conacher with Vancouver.

Overcoming physical hurdles to some, and for Conacher, it’s all about putting up the numbers – goals and assists that will ultimately be the difference makers for his career. Utica fans have shown Conacher their love since Day One. On March 4, in Conacher and Baertschi’s first game in Comets uniforms, they contributed to a shootout win over the Rochester Americans at The AUD.

Utica’s first goal on the evening was registered by Andrey Pedan and assisted by Conacher.  From their reactions and support of having the playoff-experienced Conacher on their side, Utica hockey fans don’t see a 5-foot-8 center working the offense. What they and teammates have come to appreciate in Conacher’s game is the Burlington, Ontario native’s jetting about the rink with unmatched speed.

Is Conacher a “hired gun” by Vancouver to bolster a winning culture in Utica? Is Conacher going all out so he can be considered for a roster spot with the Canucks come September? It all comes down to how one looks at the glass – half full or half empty. The bottom line for the Comets, with considerations toward Conacher, he knows the playoff drill.

Conacher found his groove back in March and hasn’t jumped the track. For Comets fans, the trade-off – Conacher for a much beloved and highly productive Dustin Jeffrey – was a bitter pill to swallow. Six weeks later, the transaction between Vancouver and the Islanders isn’t in conversation. Winning, producing, and preparing for playoff competition has a way of doing that.

Conacher has found a new hockey home in Utica. For as long as he remains a resident of The AUD, his legend continues to grow.

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