The extensive list of Cory Conacher’s individual accolades makes for quite the extraordinary resume.
To his name is the American Hockey League’s 2011-12 regular season goal scoring title, its Rookie of the Year Award, as well as the distinction of being its Most Valuable Player.
But truly impressive is the way he speaks to his personal accomplishments, deflecting all praise to the credit of his teammates and coaches.
“A lot of people refer to them as individual awards, but the truth is, they’re team awards,” Conacher said. “None of it would have been possible if it wasn’t for the great group of guys I have surrounding me.”
It is Conacher’s unselfish attitude, just as much as his on-ice talents, that played a large role in the Norfolk Admirals’ professional hockey-record 29-game winning streak, which came to an end with a loss in Game 2 of the AHL’s Calder Cup Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against the Manchester Monarchs.
But while this season has provided a setting for the Burlington, Ontario native’s first spotlight moment in a career many predict will include stardom, Conacher, 22, had previously been flying under the radar.
Conacher's play in the Eastern Conference Semifinals catapaulted the Admirals past the Whale to reach the Conference Finals (Photo by John Wright / Norfolk Admirals )
Undrafted out of Canisius College, Conacher arrived at the Lightning’s training camp last fall as an undersized 5-foot-8, 180-pound forward who appeared small in stature, but big in talent. He quickly garnered the attention of Lightning brass after a strong showing at camp, during which he showcased a tenacious work ethic, good hockey sense and an enthusiastic attitude. As a reward, Lightning head coach Guy Boucher even awarded him playing time alongside Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis during a September preseason game against the St. Louis Blues.
Conacher, who had played the entire season on an AHL contract, then inked a two-year deal with the Lightning on Mar. 1.
“I was excited, for sure,” Conacher said of signing the contract. “But there are guys on this team still looking for contracts like I was, so I think that makes winning in the playoffs so important for us. NHL teams want to sign players who have exhibited a culture of winning, so I trust the organization to give everyone a fair look if they deserve it.”
Deserve it? In Conacher’s case, he earned it.
In 75 games, the Admirals forward recorded a league-best 39 goals and chipped in 41 assists to finish with a total of 80 points, which ranked second among all AHL skaters behind only Hershey’s Chris Bourque, who had 93 points.
He also helped Norfolk lock up first place in the AHL's Eastern Conference weeks before the Calder Cup Playoffs were scheduled to begin.
The Admirals’ success, however, is not a result of merely Conacher alone.
“One great part about this group is that there’s no sour grapes in the room about anything,” Admirals head coach Jon Cooper said. “It’s always all about the team and how the guys are willing to help each other out.”
In addition to Conacher earning MVP and top rookie honors, Cooper was named recipient of the Louis A.R. Pieri Award as the AHL's outstanding coach, while second-year player Mark Barberio claimed the Eddie Shore Award as the league's top defenseman. Conacher was also a Second Team AHL All-Star, and was joined on the AHL All-Rookie Team by Admirals teammate Tyler Johnson.
And while it may be true that the team’s trophy case is already crowded, Conacher, Cooper and the rest of the surging Admirals are out to leave room for one more.