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Ready for the next chapter

by Torie Peterson / Calgary Flames

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CALGARY, AB -- When he signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Calgary Flames in the summer of 2010, Craig Conroy expected he'd have one last full season in the NHL. That didn't happen.

Conroy was placed on waivers on last month and when he cleared them, he made the decision to end his playing career, officially announcing such on Friday afternoon.

The man dubbed "the nicest man in hockey" has no hard feelings when it comes to closing this chapter of his life.

"I've come to terms with it," he said at Friday's press conference. "I understand that I'm 39 years old. I've had a great career, played 1000 games. I'm going to miss the guys, I'm going to miss the locker room but I'm still going to be around. I'm still going to be part of hockey and that's all I've ever known."

While press conferences are standard practice for any sort of announcement, having an entire team sit in for one is extremely rare. However, when Conroy walked into the room, his teammates were all in attendance for his official retirement announcement.

"I know you got home late last night. Good road trip," he told his former teammates. "It does mean a lot to have all the guys here."

After being ribbed by the players for his choice of attire before the announcement, Conroy made sure to get a few digs in while he was up at the podium.

"Jarome ... I can see him now. 'Do we have to go?'" he laughed before adding that Iginla played a crucial role in him accepting his new position.

"I actually talked to Jarome a little bit about the job, if it'd make guys feel uncomfortable and stuff like that. He said 'No, I think these young guys thought this is what you're doing already.' I hate to say it but it's probably true. I'm really looking forward to turning this chapter and moving on and seeing what the future has. To be able to do it with the Flames is a great thing."

That next chapter began last month when the Flames began to make moves in the roster. Late in January, acting general manager Jay Feaster and Flames president and CEO Ken King informed Conroy of their intention to place them on waivers.

"I'll never say it wasn't disappointing - it was disappointing but realistically, I hadn't played in 28 games or one game in 28 games," he stated. "At least they were very honest. Jay and Ken said 'This is what we're planning on doing. We're going in a different direction,' and it's always hard to hear that.

"I wouldn't lie, sit here and say 'Oh, I was happy.' I was disappointed but I think that's why it's fortunate they gave me (a few days). I'd probably be up here crying like a baby if it was that day or just after I cleared waivers."

After clearing waivers, the organization opted to offer Conroy a place within hockey operations. Feaster is enthusiastic about the new addition and believes Conroy will bring unique perspective to the front office.

"It's huge. When Ken asked me if there was an interest on my part in having Craig be part of the front office and part of the management team, I jumped at the opportunity," he said. "It was actually very, very easy to put a job description together of the areas that Craig can be a tremendous assest for the organization ... I'm very, very excited to have him on board. He's going to be a great addition to the management team."

Conroy's 17 year career has seen him make stops in Montreal, St. Louis and Los Angeles but he calls Calgary home. During two stints with the club, Conroy has played 507 games in a Flames jersey and has spent a total of eight seasons in the city.

"Leaving to go to LA was a very hard decision," Conroy said when asked about his first tenure with Flames ending after their storybook run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. "I didn't want to make that decision but it was the lockout, there was a lot of stuff going on and I had to do what I thought was best for my family and myself."

After spending close to two seasons in Los Angeles, the Flames sent forward Jamie Lundmark and two draft picks to Kings in exchange for Conroy. The former forward could only beam when asked about his return.

"When Darryl (Sutter) brought me back, it was special. That first game back here was ..." he trailed off, unable to find the right words to describe the standing ovation he received. He went on to single out Flames fans as the best in league, citing them as a major factor in his decision to stay with the franchise.

"The way the fans have treated me, that's what makes Calgary so special for me. I've said it over and over again but whether I'm walking down the street the last week or when we were making that run, they've always treated me with nothing but respect. That's all  you could ever ask as a player - is that they appreciate you working hard and they're there for you."

The fans won't be the only ones to miss Conroy's presence on the roster. His teammates, while supportive of his decision, couldn't help but express their dismay at losing him in the locker room.

"I don't think any person can fill that void," sighed Iginla. "It's going to have to be a team effort."

Robyn Regehr, who played with Conroy for all of his eight seasons in Calgary, knows that while Conroy will need an adjustment period, he believes his former teammate will be the perfect fit in his new role.

"Joining management is a good opportunity for a guy with a lot of experience. He can draw on that experience. He's a good resource. Anyone who has ever known him or talked to him knows he's a great person."

With the Flames battling for a playoff postion, Conroy's positivity and energy is something Regehr said the team will definitely miss.

"He was a big part of the team in the dressing room and in the community. He was smiling every time he came to the rink. He was a guy who could get the guys going with that type of personality. He was an important player for us and a big part of the puzzle."

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