Canisius hockey coach Dave Smith didn’t get a chance to see Cory Conacher until the start of official workouts but the whispers in the corridors were all saying the same thing.
“A lot of the early information we get from our players, since they are skating on their own,” Smith said. “They would say to me, ‘Hey coach, I don’t know how he did it but Cory got better again.’ It was exciting.”
The reigning Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year had gotten bigger, faster and stronger in the offseason, and was eager to jump into action last weekend.
Trailing 2-0 at Western Michigan in the season opener on Friday, Conacher scored twice during an eight-minute span to tie the contest in the second period and his goal midway through the third proved to be the game-winner as Canisius posted a 5-3 victory. A night later, he posted an assist in a 3-2 overtime loss to Western. It was Conacher’s second career hat trick, matching his effort from last year’s season opener at Lake Superior State.
“I was happy for Cory,” Smith said. “For Cory to be rewarded for his efforts was terrific.”
Last season Conacher set Canisius records for his 53 points and 33 assists, and his 20 goals ranked third in the program’s history — he led Atlantic Hockey in points, was second in assists and third in goals.
So what is Conacher doing better now?
“He does everything faster,” Smith said. “His tempo has gone up. His shot has improved. The quickness of his hands, his strength, his explosiveness … it’s all better. He did what we asked all of our players to do — he got bigger, faster, stronger, and shoots the puck better. His all-around game was noticeable from the first time we saw him.”
Among active Atlantic Hockey players, Conacher is the leading points man (110) and ranks third in goals (42), trailing only Jacques Lamoureux of Air Force (55) and Steve Cameron of Mercyhurst (44).
Earning player of the year honors has certainly raised Conacher’s stock and makes him a target to stop every time he steps to the ice. Smith related a conversation he had with the school’s all-time leading scorer, Josh Heidinger, about raised expectations and the urgency of a senior year.
“(Josh) said take the pressure off and do the little things,” Smith said. “I told Cory I know you want to start off well but there’s a long process. What you did last year wasn’t done on day one. … I talked to some other friends of mine and they said keep it simple.”
Conacher is a senior but he’s not even 21 years old yet — his birthday is. Dec. 14.
“He continues to work hard and continues to improve,” Smith said. “He is really a pleasure to coach.”
Active leading scorers in Atlantic Hockey
Cory Conacher, Canisius 42-68—110
Vincent Scarsella, Canisius 27-75—102
Nathan Longpre, Robert Morris 35-64—99
Jacques Lamoureux, Air Force 55-41—96
Scott Pitt, Mercyhurst 28-64—92
Andrew Favot, RIT 29-60—89
Steve Cameron, Mercyhurst 44-43—87
Derrick Burnett, Air Force 25-59—84
Cameron Burt, RIT 29-50—79
Cody Omilusik, Army 40-37—77
Denny Urban, Robert Morris 21-56—77
Everett Sheen, Holy Cross 35-36—71
Mike Gurtler, Mercyhurst 34-37—71
Erik Peterson, Bentley 36-33—69
Dustin Cloutier, Bentley 29-40—69
Brandon Coccimiglio, Mercyhurst 32-37—69
Andrew Olson, 35-29—64
Tyler Brenner, RIT 30-32—62
Jason Krispel, UConn 13-44—57
Patrick Knowlton, Sacred Heart 19-38—57
Niagara and Robert Morris joined Atlantic Hockey this season after playing in College Hockey America.