Conroy chasing milestone

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

The memory banks are sharp as ever for Craig Conroy.

Ask the Calgary Flames centre his first game, and he shoots back: "Hartford. In the mall," Conroy said. "You can't forget that."

How about the first point?

"The next night in Madison Square Garden. A goal," he said. "(Mark) Messier scored for them that period, so it was me and Messier. I was pretty excited. I thought it might be my only goal in the NHL. Only point."

Not true by a long shot.

The Flames will return to practice today before embarking on a quick road trip to Nashville and Chicago, and Conroy is one point shy of 500 for his career.

Sure, that's not a big milestone when you talk about the all-time NHL point producers, but it's a big deal to the 37-year-old.

"I just wanted to be a regular in the NHL. I never really thought 500," he said. "The first seven or eight years, was all about checking. Then I got to play with Iggy, so 500 is going to be a big number for me."

Until the first trade that brought Conroy to Calgary in the spring of 2001, he was known as a defensive centre. The St. Louis Blues had no shortage of front-line forwards, and Conroy was thrust into the role of shutting down opposition stars by using his speed.

When he was acquired by the Flames, the critics were out in full force of then-GM Craig Button for dealing away Cory Stillman, one of the few players on the Flames who you knew could score, for a third-line centre.

When reunited with head coach Greg Gilbert -- who was bench boss of AHL Worcester when Conroy was in the minors -- he was given a chance to show what he could do at the other end of the rink, and began to flourish alongside Jarome Iginla early in the 2001-02 season.

"He told me, 'I know you can be an offensive guy. It's just a matter of going out and doing it,' " Conroy said of Gilbert.

"It was unfortunate for Marc Savard that he got hurt and I played with Iggy and he got 20 goals in 20 games and there was no splitting us up.

"All of a sudden, you're on the first line, on the powerplay -- all those things you'd never gotten the opportunity to do before.

"That's all you can ask for, and it's been a lot of fun ever since."

In 381 games wearing Flames silks, Conroy has collected 85 goals and 265 points.

This season, in which he was pegged to be a third-liner but has bounced between that job and on the top line, he's cobbled together 22 points (5-17) in 37 games.

He's also managed 20 games without a penalty, a big turnaround for the forward who was flagged for hooking too often in the early going.

It's been a tough habit to break having played all those seasons through the clutch-and-grab era.

"I would do it just out of instinct," he admitted. "It's hard for me because I still want to do it. In Montreal, Claude Ruel use to tell me, 'Get on their hands' and 'Give them a little push.' "


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