– This weekend’s fathers’ trip has special meaning for Chris Conner
and his dad, Scott.
For the Conners, the trip has provided an opportunity for Scott Conner to share memories of his son’s hockey development, which involved enrolling in a Chicago high school so he could play with the Freeze in the NAHL.
“It was hard giving him up at sixteen to go live somewhere else,” Scott Conner said. “And that killed me. It’s paying off now, but there are a lot of sacrifices you make.”
Sacrifices such as getting out of work early on Friday afternoons to get to tournaments, missing school activities from dances to graduation and spending hours on Canada’s Highway 401 en route to Toronto were just part of the drill for the Conner family.
But being on year’s fathers’ trip brought back memories of the old days for the Conners, who, after Thursday’s excursion to the Hockey Hall of Fame, simply went back to the hotel, relaxed and watched TV, much the same way they used to.
“We had some good times at the hotels. We had a lot of good times with the people when we came up here,” Scott Conner said. “Chris was even saying on the bus, ‘I wonder if those rinks are still here,’ the ones that we used to go to.”
In addition to the cities and rinks that they frequented, Conner can track his son’s history as a hockey player through the scars he’s acquired, the bones he’s broken and the teeth he’s lost.
In his first professional game with the Iowa Stars – the Dallas Star’s minor-league affiliate – the first game he ever played without a full face cage, Chris turned his head at the wrong moment and caught a flying puck that knocked out a few front teeth. And even though he scored his first pro goal in that game, it was the kind of incident that gets to a parent.
“It hit him right in the teeth,” Scott Conner said. “He didn’t know it happened. He turned around because the puck had hit him in the face, bounced the other way and skated by his teeth on the ice. That one upset me.”
After spending three seasons with the Stars and two more in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, Conner moved back home when he signed a one-year contract with his favorite childhood team.
Evidence of Conner’s early ties to the Wings is saved on a video recording that shows a five or six year-old Chris (missing teeth then, as well) featured at a Wings game as a “Little Caesars’ Player of Tomorrow.”
As far as Conner has come, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. After playing his first few NHL games, he called his parents to thank them for everything they had done to support his career. And not long after getting signed by the Wings, he called to thank them again.
“Just the other day, probably his second game with Detroit, he was driving downtown and he did it again,” Scott Conner explained. “I said, ‘It’s good, don’t worry about it, me and your mom would do it again in a minute.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, Dad, but it’s the Red Wings.’ Like a little kid. So it’s great.”