Conacher Taking On Leadership Role With Crunch

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Cory Conacher is doing everything he normally does.

The Syracuse Crunch forward is averaging roughly a point per game. He is dependable in all situations. And despite being listed at 5-8, he's constantly in players' faces and drawing the ire of the competition.

But five years removed from winning the AHL's Rookie of the Year award, Conacher is looking to become more of a leader as he wears the alternate captain's A with the Crunch.

"I've been working hard on and off the ice," Conacher said. "I try to show by example rather than talk as much. That's the way I lead. I work hard on the ice and I work hard off the ice, so that's hopefully getting to the young guys."

With players coming to Syracuse at the end of their college or junior seasons, Conacher is hoping to guide them in the right direction. His dressing room stall is right next to Libor Hajek, who joined the Crunch after the Saskatoon Blades (WHL) had their season end last week.

"I try to help the young guys," Conacher said. "There's a lot of young guys on this team, especially with guys coming in now — and I'm sure there will be a couple more guys before the end of the season — to come in from juniors or wherever. I'm just trying to help them out as much as I can."

Conacher has 16 goals and 40 assists for a team-leading 56 points to go with 105 penalty minutes in 51 games. In 217 career regular season AHL contests, the 27-year-old has 209 points for Syracuse, Bridgeport, Utica, Norfolk, Rochester and Milwaukee.

For Conacher, there is an emphasis on getting physically involved in games.

"That's for sure when I'm at my best is when I'm in the dirty areas and around the net," Conacher said. "Obviously, I've got to limit my penalties. I don't want to be in the box all game. ... I like it when guys are chirping me and guys are in my face. That kind of gets me going and gets the fire going a little more in my belly. When I'm doing that, usually I find a way to get on the scoresheet and help my team that way as well."

Conacher knows its important to not cross the line and take unnecessary penalties. While that has happened, Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx has given Conacher more of a leash than most players.

"The coach gives me the opportunity to play. He's treated me really well down here, and I'm playing all scenarios on the ice during the game," Conacher said. "It's been nice to have that. A lot of times coaches — if you turn the puck over or make a mistake or take a bad penalty — they bench you for it. With Ben, he's given me a little more leeway, which is nice."

Conacher is doing everything he can to show Groulx is making the right decision. Despite Syracuse being shutout in its last contest, the Burlington, Ontario native has posted 12 points in his last seven games.

"Lately I've been finding chemistry with different guys, and our power play has been pretty good lately and that helps as well," Conacher said. "I guess the puck is just finding a way in for me."

Conacher, who spent last year in Switzerland, has 63 points in 157 career NHL games. He came back to North America for another shot to play in the best league in the world, but has only played eight games with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

Conacher is hoping he hasn't skated in his last game in the NHL, whether it's with the Lightning or another organization.

"I came back here to play in the NHL, and obviously it's been a frustrating year for not getting called up and not getting a chance to play with Tampa as much I wanted to," Conacher said. "So I'm just doing everything I can to showcase myself for the future, whether it's Tampa if they want to re-sign me or another team in the NHL. It's important for me to stay positive and keep the good habits."

Pictured: Crunch forward Cory Conacher looks to make a pass against the Comets at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.