Return to Calgary is like starting over for Conroy

Monday, 16.04.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
calgaryflames.com staff
 

Calgary forward Craig Conroy was part of the Calgary Flames magic run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. A late season trade has brought him back to Calgary for a second playoff run


by Larry Wigge
NHL.com Columnist

Is this a second chance for Craig Conroy? An opportunity to make a run and go to the Stanley Cup Final with the Calgary Flames after being re-acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 29?
Only time will tell, but most of us will never forget the great magic Conroy and Jarome Iginla had for several seasons in Calgary that was culminated by a Game 7 loss to the Lightning in Game 7 in Tampa Bay in June of 2004.

For the 35-year-old Conroy, his entire career has been like a storybook, actually more like a soap opera, with twists and turns you could never anticipate.

Craig Conroy grew up just down the road from Lake Placid, where hockey had a renaissance in the United States with the 1980 Olympic gold medal victory. Conroy was just an 8-year-old lad at the time, but it was the birth of an American Dream for him.

The Potsdam, N.Y., native, went to play at Clarkson College, just like his dad and two uncles. He was selected 123rd in the 1990 Entry Draft by his favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens. Everything he had dreamed came true, and all of it happened within an easy drive from home.

It was at this point that dream sort of turn to a series of paradoxes.

The likeable Conroy's first shot on goal at the Canadiens' training camp in 1994 wound up going right at all-world goaltender Patrick Roy's head. Got him on the temple.

"It was an intra-squad game, so we were all basically on the same side," Conroy recalled. "But this was Patrick Roy. Everything stopped. He threw his stick down and punched me in the forehead with his blocker. Then both teams jumped me."

* Conroy had long dreamed of flying down the wing like his idol, Habs superstar Guy Lafleur, with hair flowing behind him. But the paradox continued when he played in just 13 games over two seasons with the Canadiens before being traded to St. Louis, where he was a fixture at center on a checking line for nearly five seasons.

Until, he was traded to Calgary late in the 2000-01 season for winger Cory Stillman.

* With an injury to No. 1 center Marc Savard, Conroy got an opportunity of a lifetime -- to center young star Jarome Iginla.

"I was only with the Flames for about five games and on my first shift, I dumped the puck in and then charged in to forecheck, the same as I had always done in St. Louis," Craig said, with a funny smile on his face. "Jarome pulled me aside and said simply: 'You're not in St. Louis anymore. You're on the No. 1 line now. You move the puck, skate with the puck ... be creative.

"I knew he kind of looked at me differently, like I was this checker from St. Louis. But, still, I was totally devastated. It rocked my world."

And the combination rocked the hockey world, too.

In 2001-02, Iginla scored an NHL-leading 52 goals. Conroy had a career-high 27 goals and 48 assists. Two years, later, they led the sixth-seeded Flames to the Stanley Cup Finals, before losing in Game 7 at Tampa Bay.

* Following the 2004 playoff run, the free-agent center was deemed too expensive to re-sign and Conroy wound up signing with the Los Angeles Kings.

Another strange turn of events in this up-and-down career: Conroy, who looked to be a shoo-in for the 2002 U.S. Olympic team, missed in 2002. but made it in 2006, while having a good-but-not-great season centering a line with Pavol Demitra and Alexander Frolov.

* Andy Murray was out as coach in Los Angeles late last season and Marc Crawford was in this season. Suddenly, Conroy was back to playing second- or third-line duty as a checker.

And this brings us back to the current paradox -- a chance to return to Calgary and center a line with Iginla ... again.

***


In his first game after being traded back to the Flames from the Kings, Craig Conroy, center, scored a goal.
As it turns out, Conroy and the Kings were in Red Deer, Alberta, waiting to play the Flames just down the road (does that sound familiar?) on Jan. 30. Craig had come off the ice and was signing some autographs, when Mike Altieri, the Kings' V.P. of Communications, told him Crawford wanted to see him.

"I asked, 'Am I traded?' " Conroy remembered.

"You've been traded here," Altieri told him

"Here, I thought Red Deer? My first thought was 'Great.' I never played junior hockey, but it would be strange to start now, wouldn't it?. After the initial shock, I said, 'Well, that must mean Edmonton or Calgary, right?' " Conroy said. "Mike said, I better talk to the coach."

"For 30 seconds there, before I went into talk to 'Cro' (Crawford), I wasn't sure if it was Edmonton or Calgary," Conroy said. "When he told me I was going back to the Flames, I couldn't hold back my joy. I was so excited, I offered to ride to Calgary in the Kings' equipment van. But the Flames told me to stay there, that they would send a car to pick me up. I was so excited, it seemed like forever, before they came to pick me up."

One night after the trade, Conroy was inserted into the Flames' lineup with Iginla and Alex Tanguay on his wings. Like he hadn't missed a beat in the season and a half he was gone, Craig scored two goals in leading Calgary to a 4-1 victory over the Kings.

It was like a new lease on life for the 35-year-old center, who had just five goals and 16 points in 52 games with the Kings this season.

"Some days I wake up thinking this is just a dream, considering where I was in last place to where I am now," Conroy told me. "A week ago, it was not that much fun going to the rink."

The second time around for Conroy and the Flames hasn't, however, been instant gratification. He finished the season with just eight goals and 13 assists in 28 games since getting that short ride from Red Deer to Calgary. Part of the struggle has been because of an elbow injury.

"It's been a bit of a roller-coaster," said Conroy after a two-goal, one-assist effort May 6 in St. Louis. "Some nights we're getting points ... some nights we're not. If the team wins, it's OK. But I feel like when the team loses and you don't contribute -- especially being on that line with (Alex) Tanguay and Iggy (Jarome Iginla) -- you're expected to score."

Conroy provides all the intangibles a team wants from a player: He's a good team guy (was captain of the Flames the last time around). Passion. Dedication. Skill. Desire. They are all part of this compassionate player, who told us on that trip in early March that he was a little homesick for Jessica, his wife, plus daughters Taylor, Sophia and Sydney.

"They've put me on a couple little guilt trips already," Conroy said. "My promises ... they've been a little hard to keep."

The promises were getting passports for the daughters so they could go from Los Angeles to Calgary to see their daddy. Nine-year-old Taylor and seven-year-old Sophia understood and kept touch through e-mail on their home computer. But 2 1/2-year-old Sydney needed to see a that smiling face.

Presumably, those young U.S. citizens will have the opportunity to travel to Calgary for the playoffs.

On the ice, Conroy is more than just a little excited about the prospects of the Flames -- even if they are the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference this time (Remember Edmonton got to the Final last year as the No. 8 seed).

"When you look at the faces in this room, you know we have the same grit and passion that got us to the Final in 2004 -- and yet there's more skill," he said, naming off guys like Alex Tanguay, Daymond Langkow, Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen, David Moss (and injured center Matthew Lombardi) up front and Roman Hamrlik, Dion Phaneuf and Brad Stuart on defense. "Maybe we can get on a run again. We'll certainly have to give up fewer shots, fewer goals and win more often on the road. If we can get that same grit we had him 2004, I think we can do it."


Since his return to Calgary, Craig Conroy has added toughness and a scoring touch to the Flames' lineup.

When you talk about Craig Conroy, you're talking about one of those guys everyone loves to be around. He's a friend to everyone. He's funny.

For years in St. Louis, Conroy would pop in and out of the Blues locker room wearing a Looney Toons cap with the Tasmanian Devil the featured character. And you couldn't find a more apropos comparison to the way Conroy approaches the game of hockey, speeding to cover his man or get to the puck and constantly filled with positive energy and giving out 110 percent.

"The Tasmanian Devil. Yeah. That suits Connie to a 'T' " defenseman Chris Pronger, now with the Anaheim Ducks, said back then. "When he's on his game, he can be a devil to play against. Defensively, he's always in your face."

To Conroy, he has to be a man in motion to be successful.

"If I do score, if I do get points, that's a bonus," he has always stressed. "To me, winning starts with good defense. It always has ... and always will."

And while most observers will start with Iginla and work down the Flames' roster, it should be pointed out that Jarome made his quantum leap from 28, 29 and 31 goals to 52 in 2001-02 when Conroy became his regular center.

"You've got to be well-rounded in your approach to this game -- and I've learned from working with Connie that an awful lot of the best scoring opportunities come off of playing defense and forcing mistakes by the other team," Iginla said. "Twice Connie was nominated for the Selke Award as the best defensive forward in the NHL. You don't get that by accident, not when you are assigned to play against the likes of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Mike Modano. Defense is hard work and when you learn that, it seems like the adrenaline just starts off high when you turn the puck over and go on offense."

There's more.

"He has a positive influence in the room," said Iginla. "He's in a good mood 99 percent of the time. Those things are important. He brings an energy to the team, because he never stops working, never stops trying. There are so many immeasurables with Connie."

There's nothing more exciting than seeing the one-on-one battles all over the ice in the playoffs. We learn quickly who is paying the price that it takes to win those battles. Having Conroy around helps with those one-on-one battles. What makes watching Conroy so much fun to watch is that he knows both roles -- hunter and hunted.

"You want to show people you're not just a one-dimensional player," Conroy told me during that 2004 run, kind of laughing that he was talking to a St. Louis reporter about something other than his great defense. "When you're a little kid, everyone wants to be the guy to score the goals and get the points ... but I don't think I really had that chance until now. And, you know something, it's pretty cool.

"I never really gave it a thought about playing on the power play and how many offensive opportunities you could create. But, it really makes your mind work even faster when you can give the team a chance to score."

"He skates well and he's got that playoff mindset to take the game to a different level," said Darryl Sutter, the Flames coach in 2004 and his general manager now.

Playoff mindset? No, that's not a paradox. It's an essential part of the intangibles that makes the Flames a team to watch once again in this year's playoffs. And it's no coincidence that Calgary fans have a good vibe about this team now that Craig Conroy is back for a sequel.

 

by Larry Wigge
NHL.com columnist

Is this a second chance for Craig Conroy? An opportunity to make a run and go to the Stanley Cup Final with the Calgary Flames after being re-acquired from the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 29?
Only time will tell, but most of us will never forget the great magic Conroy and Jarome Iginla had for several seasons in Calgary that was culminated by a Game 7 loss to the Lightning in Game 7 in Tampa Bay in June of 2004.

For the 35-year-old Conroy, his entire career has been like a storybook, actually more like a soap opera, with twists and turns you could never anticipate.

Craig Conroy grew up just down the road from Lake Placid, where hockey had a renaissance in the United States with the 1980 Olympic gold medal victory. Conroy was just an 8-year-old lad at the time, but it was the birth of an American Dream for him.

The Potsdam, N.Y., native, went to play at Clarkson College, just like his dad and two uncles. He was selected 123rd in the 1990 Entry Draft by his favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens. Everything he had dreamed came true, and all of it happened within an easy drive from home.

It was at this point that dream sort of turn to a series of paradoxes.


* The likeable Conroy's first shot on goal at the Canadiens' training camp in 1994 wound up going right at all-world goaltender Patrick Roy's head. Got him on the temple.

"It was an intra-squad game, so we were all basically on the same side," Conroy recalled. "But this was Patrick Roy. Everything stopped. He threw his stick down and punched me in the forehead with his blocker. Then both teams jumped me."

* Conroy had long dreamed of flying down the wing like his idol, Habs superstar Guy Lafleur, with hair flowing behind him. But the paradox continued when he played in just 13 games over two seasons with the Canadiens before being traded to St. Louis, where he was a fixture at center on a checking line for nearly five seasons.

Until, he was traded to Calgary late in the 2000-01 season for winger Cory Stillman.

* With an injury to No. 1 center Marc Savard, Conroy got an opportunity of a lifetime -- to center young star Jarome Iginla.

"I was only with the Flames for about five games and on my first shift, I dumped the puck in and then charged in to forecheck, the same as I had always done in St. Louis," Craig said, with a funny smile on his face. "Jarome pulled me aside and said simply: 'You're not in St. Louis anymore. You're on the No. 1 line now. You move the puck, skate with the puck ... be creative.

"I knew he kind of looked at me differently, like I was this checker from St. Louis. But, still, I was totally devastated. It rocked my world."

And the combination rocked the hockey world, too.

In 2001-02, Iginla scored an NHL-leading 52 goals. Conroy had a career-high 27 goals and 48 assists. Two years, later, they led the sixth-seeded Flames to the Stanley Cup Finals, before losing in Game 7 at Tampa Bay.

* Following the 2004 playoff run, the free-agent center was deemed too expensive to re-sign and Conroy wound up signing with the Los Angeles Kings.

Another strange turn of events in this up-and-down career: Conroy, who looked to be a shoo-in for the 2002 U.S. Olympic team, missed in 2002. but made it in 2006, while having a good-but-not-great season centering a line with Pavol Demitra and Alexander Frolov.

* Andy Murray was out as coach in Los Angeles late last season and Marc Crawford was in this season. Suddenly, Conroy was back to playing second- or third-line duty as a checker.

And this brings us back to the current paradox -- a chance to return to Calgary and center a line with Iginla ... again.

***


In his first game after being traded back to the Flames from the Kings, Craig Conroy, center, scored a goal.
As it turns out, Conroy and the Kings were in Red Deer, Alberta, waiting to play the Flames just down the road (does that sound familiar?) on Jan. 30. Craig had come off the ice and was signing some autographs, when Mike Altieri, the Kings' V.P. of Communications, told him Crawford wanted to see him.

"I asked, 'Am I traded?' " Conroy remembered.

"You've been traded here," Altieri told him

"Here, I thought Red Deer? My first thought was 'Great.' I never played junior hockey, but it would be strange to start now, wouldn't it?. After the initial shock, I said, 'Well, that must mean Edmonton or Calgary, right?' " Conroy said. "Mike said, I better talk to the coach."

"For 30 seconds there, before I went into talk to 'Cro' (Crawford), I wasn't sure if it was Edmonton or Calgary," Conroy said. "When he told me I was going back to the Flames, I couldn't hold back my joy. I was so excited, I offered to ride to Calgary in the Kings' equipment van. But the Flames told me to stay there, that they would send a car to pick me up. I was so excited, it seemed like forever, before they came to pick me up."

One night after the trade, Conroy was inserted into the Flames' lineup with Iginla and Alex Tanguay on his wings. Like he hadn't missed a beat in the season and a half he was gone, Craig scored two goals in leading Calgary to a 4-1 victory over the Kings.

It was like a new lease on life for the 35-year-old center, who had just five goals and 16 points in 52 games with the Kings this season.

"Some days I wake up thinking this is just a dream, considering where I was in last place to where I am now," Conroy told me. "A week ago, it was not that much fun going to the rink."

The second time around for Conroy and the Flames hasn't, however, been instant gratification. He finished the season with just eight goals and 13 assists in 28 games since getting that short ride from Red Deer to Calgary. Part of the struggle has been because of an elbow injury.

"It's been a bit of a roller-coaster," said Conroy after a two-goal, one-assist effort May 6 in St. Louis. "Some nights we're getting points ... some nights we're not. If the team wins, it's OK. But I feel like when the team loses and you don't contribute -- especially being on that line with (Alex) Tanguay and Iggy (Jarome Iginla) -- you're expected to score."

Conroy provides all the intangibles a team wants from a player: He's a good team guy (was captain of the Flames the last time around). Passion. Dedication. Skill. Desire. They are all part of this compassionate player, who told us on that trip in early March that he was a little homesick for Jessica, his wife, plus daughters Taylor, Sophia and Sydney.

"They've put me on a couple little guilt trips already," Conroy said. "My promises ... they've been a little hard to keep."

The promises were getting passports for the daughters so they could go from Los Angeles to Calgary to see their daddy. Nine-year-old Taylor and seven-year-old Sophia understood and kept touch through e-mail on their home computer. But 2 1/2-year-old Sydney needed to see a that smiling face.

Presumably, those young U.S. citizens will have the opportunity to travel to Calgary for the playoffs.

On the ice, Conroy is more than just a little excited about the prospects of the Flames -- even if they are the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference this time (Remember Edmonton got to the Final last year as the No. 8 seed).

"When you look at the faces in this room, you know we have the same grit and passion that got us to the Final in 2004 -- and yet there's more skill," he said, naming off guys like Alex Tanguay, Daymond Langkow, Tony Amonte, Jeff Friesen, David Moss (and injured center Matthew Lombardi) up front and Roman Hamrlik, Dion Phaneuf and Brad Stuart on defense. "Maybe we can get on a run again. We'll certainly have to give up fewer shots, fewer goals and win more often on the road. If we can get that same grit we had him 2004, I think we can do it."


Since his return to Calgary, Craig Conroy has added toughness and a scoring touch to the Flames' lineup.

When you talk about Craig Conroy, you're talking about one of those guys everyone loves to be around. He's a friend to everyone. He's funny.

For years in St. Louis, Conroy would pop in and out of the Blues locker room wearing a Looney Toons cap with the Tasmanian Devil the featured character. And you couldn't find a more apropos comparison to the way Conroy approaches the game of hockey, speeding to cover his man or get to the puck and constantly filled with positive energy and giving out 110 percent.

"The Tasmanian Devil. Yeah. That suits Connie to a 'T' " defenseman Chris Pronger, now with the Anaheim Ducks, said back then. "When he's on his game, he can be a devil to play against. Defensively, he's always in your face."

To Conroy, he has to be a man in motion to be successful.

"If I do score, if I do get points, that's a bonus," he has always stressed. "To me, winning starts with good defense. It always has ... and always will."

And while most observers will start with Iginla and work down the Flames' roster, it should be pointed out that Jarome made his quantum leap from 28, 29 and 31 goals to 52 in 2001-02 when Conroy became his regular center.

"You've got to be well-rounded in your approach to this game -- and I've learned from working with Connie that an awful lot of the best scoring opportunities come off of playing defense and forcing mistakes by the other team," Iginla said. "Twice Connie was nominated for the Selke Award as the best defensive forward in the NHL. You don't get that by accident, not when you are assigned to play against the likes of Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Mike Modano. Defense is hard work and when you learn that, it seems like the adrenaline just starts off high when you turn the puck over and go on offense."

There's more.

"He has a positive influence in the room," said Iginla. "He's in a good mood 99 percent of the time. Those things are important. He brings an energy to the team, because he never stops working, never stops trying. There are so many immeasurables with Connie."

There's nothing more exciting than seeing the one-on-one battles all over the ice in the playoffs. We learn quickly who is paying the price that it takes to win those battles. Having Conroy around helps with those one-on-one battles. What makes watching Conroy so much fun to watch is that he knows both roles -- hunter and hunted.

"You want to show people you're not just a one-dimensional player," Conroy told me during that 2004 run, kind of laughing that he was talking to a St. Louis reporter about something other than his great defense. "When you're a little kid, everyone wants to be the guy to score the goals and get the points ... but I don't think I really had that chance until now. And, you know something, it's pretty cool.

"I never really gave it a thought about playing on the power play and how many offensive opportunities you could create. But, it really makes your mind work even faster when you can give the team a chance to score."

"He skates well and he's got that playoff mindset to take the game to a different level," said Darryl Sutter, the Flames coach in 2004 and his general manager now.

Playoff mindset? No, that's not a paradox. It's an essential part of the intangibles that makes the Flames a team to watch once again in this year's playoffs. And it's no coincidence that Calgary fans have a good vibe about this team now that Craig Conroy is back for a sequel.

 

 

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The Series Schedule

Thu, April 12
Detroit 4 Calgary 1

Sun, April 15
Detroit 3 Calgary 1

Tue, April 17 8:00 p.m.
at Calgary (CBC, VERSUS)
Thu, April 19 7:30 p.m.
at Calgary (CBC, VERSUS)
*Sat, April 21 1:00 p.m.
at Detroit (NBC, CBC)
*Sun, April 22 TBD
at Calgary (CBC, VERSUS)
*Tue, April 24 TBD
at Detroit (CBC, VERSUS)
*if necessary
-- All times Mountain

 

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