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Cory Conacher: Honoring His Family’s Name

by Dan Marrazza / Tampa Bay Lightning

With wins in the first two games of the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Finals under their belts, the Norfolk Admirals will make their way up to Toronto early this week to resume their final-round series against the Marlies on Thursday night.

Although the middle portion of the series, which would include Game 3, Game 4 and the series’ possible Game 5, will officially be away games for the Admirals, there are a few Norfolk players that hail from just outside Toronto that will have the chance to secure their first professional championships at “home” in front of throngs of family and friends.

Team captain Mike Angelidis calls nearby Woodbridge, Ont. home, while Mike Kostka is from Etobicoke, Ont. and league MVP Cory Conacher is from Burlington, Ont.

While all three Admirals spent their childhoods in the Greater Toronto Area, Cory Conacher has an even deeper tie to the city, given the role of Toronto in the successes of generations of hockey-playing Conachers before him.

Even though most of the Conacher family’s impact on the city of Toronto occurred decades before Cory was born in 1989, the very presence of someone with his surname playing hockey in Canada’s most-populated city should be noted.

If you search back far enough on Cory’s family tree, you’d find that his great-grandfather’s cousin was a man named Charlie Conacher, who starred on the NHL’s hometown Maple Leafs from 1929-38.

Charlie Conacher’s accomplishments as a Maple Leaf include leading the NHL in goal scoring five times, leading the league in points twice and serving as an integral member of the Maple Leafs’ first-ever Stanley Cup-winning team 80 years ago, in 1932.

Charlie Conacher, nicknamed “The Big Bomber”, spent his best years as a Maple Leaf playing on one of the most famous forward lines in hockey history, which, kept together as a unit of three for years, was affectionately referred to as the “Kid Line.”

The Kid Line’s center, Joe Primeau, the line’s left wing, Harvey “Busher” Jackson and Conacher all had their careers end with induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But unlike his linemates, the Toronto-born Charlie Conacher’s successes in his hometown began even before his NHL career started, as he had one of the most historic performances in junior-hockey history when he notched an amazing 28 playoff goals in 1929 to lead a team called the Toronto Marlboros—for whom the AHL’s current Toronto Marlies are named after—to a Memorial Cup championship.

After retiring as a player, Charlie Conacher coached the Oshawa Generals to a Memorial Cup championship in 1944 and served as the head coach of the Chicago Black Hawks—before they officially changed their name to the “Blackhawks”— during the 1947-48, 1948-49 and 1949-50 seasons.

One of Charlie Conacher’s top players while coaching Chicago was his younger brother, Roy Conacher, who is of the same genetic relation to Cory Conacher as Charlie Conacher.

Under his brother’s watch, Roy Conacher became the second of his brothers to win an NHL scoring title, winning the Art Ross Trophy after compiling 56 points in a 70-game 1948-49 season.

Roy Conacher, a 1998 inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame, was a veteran player at the time he played for his brother in Chicago, though, as he started his NHL career by winning a Stanley Cup in his rookie season with the Boston Bruins in 1938-39.

Roy Conacher, also a native of the city of Toronto, won a second Stanley Cup with Boston in 1941, before joining the Detroit Red Wings and eventually, the Chicago Black Hawks.

While Roy Conacher’s playing ability affected the NHL for years in itself, another one of his legacies stems from an indirect repercussion of his trade from Detroit to Chicago at the start of the 1947-48 season.

The impact of Roy Conacher’s trade to Chicago is that, after the deal was made, a slew of Detroit players began clamoring for the chance to wear his former number (9), since in the NHL’s Original 6 era, when team travel was mostly done by train, having a lower jersey number gave a player the right to a ground-level train berth that wouldn’t require climbing up and down a ladder in order to go to sleep.

The winner of the Red Wings’ number-nine sweepstakes in 1947 was a 19-year-old who would be starting his second NHL season that fall, named Gordie Howe.

But while Charlie Conacher’s and Roy Conacher’s exploits would give Norfolk’s Cory Conacher one of the more impressive gene pools in hockey history in themselves, Charlie and Roy probably weren’t even the best athletes in their immediate family.

A third brother—there were 10 Conacher siblings—named Lionel Conacher topped them all, as his numerous accomplishments led him to be named Canada’s top athlete for the first half of the 20th century, in addition to establishing the three Conachers as the only set of three brothers to ever all be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

What separated Lionel Conacher from his Hall of Fame brothers was that he, in addition to a 1934 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Black Hawks, a 1935 Stanley Cup with the Montreal Maroons and a Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 1994, also had a tremendous career playing other sports.

Lionel Conacher starred on the Toronto Argonauts team that won the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup in 1921 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1963, he hit a game-winning triple that won a minor-league baseball championship for a team ironically called the Toronto Maple Leafs , was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1966), wrestled professionally and won a Canadian amateur light-heavyweight boxing championship, despite famously having been knocked out by Jack Dempsey in 1921.

Since Lionel Conacher’s achievements led to the Canadian Press’ yearly award for male athlete of the year to be named after him, Cory Conacher will have a long road ahead of him in the coming years if he wants to have a career with the Tampa Bay Lightning that would make him the most-accomplished athlete in his family’s history.

But for Cory, the AHL’s 2011-12 MVP, goal-scoring champion and rookie of the year, adding a Calder Cup to his growing resume would put him off to a good start.

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