Tampa Bay Lightning forward prospect Cory Conacher didn’t need to take home the American Hockey League’s goal-scoring title or even be named league MVP to stand tall in the eyes of Bolts management.
Conacher, in fact, is not tall - he’s only 5-foot-8 - but due to a remarkable showing during Lightning training camp last fall that carried through into his first year in professional hockey in 2011-12, he hardly had any trouble gaining attention even prior to the start of last season.
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“We knew that the talent and the competitiveness were there,” Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said. “He proved that last season, but now we’re looking to see if he can maintain that same level of play with a degree of consistency.”
Chock it up to say that for a second straight year, Conacher will again be subject to a watchful gaze, and rightfully so.
His 39 goals last season ranked tops in the AHL, while his 80 points were good for second among all league skaters, as he served as a catalyst for a Norfolk Admirals team that brought home the AHL’s Calder Cup championship with seemingly little difficulty.
Of course, though, with a new season comes even higher expectations, and perhaps those which arrive as a result of one instance in particular.
With the current labor dispute between team owners and the NHL Players’ Association leading to the postponement of the NHL clubs’ official training camps, Conacher, according to BriseBois, “will have a chance to be an impact player at the AHL level.”
Previously, Conacher was one of few Tampa Bay prospects who was thought of to maybe contend for a roster spot with the Lightning out of training camp, but now, even without the chance of that happening, the 22-year-old forward is not at all discouraged about his chances to one day crack an NHL roster.
Conacher's hard work this offseason has him primed to make a major impact again this season.
“Rather than being disappointed or anything like that, I think the situation with the NHL right now made me realize that I need to work a little harder, and that at least I’d be given the opportunity to play [in the AHL] and improve my game,” Conacher said. “So for now, I’m looking at continuing to take on a large role in Syracuse and helping that team succeed to show everyone in Tampa Bay that I’m capable of taking them to the top.”
In order to do that, Conacher has put in the extra work this summer, albeit in just a few short months since Norfolk’s championship run extended well into June, participating in a program called Twist Conditioning at a gym in his hometown of Burlington, Ontario, as well as connecting with personal trainer Dave Blais, with whom he worked to become faster and stronger.
“It’s pretty intense,” Conacher said. “There are six or seven of us and basically we’re on the ice three times per week, then we go about five times in the gym where some days involve heavy lifting and others are just for improving foot speed. As the summer goes on, the number of times on the ice and in the gym increase and we do a little extra, so the workouts really push us.”
How appropriate, considering Conacher will be pushing both himself and the Crunch this season in much the same fasion.