SUN Hockey Pool

Rocky start to love affair

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:17 PM ET

Almost a decade later, Jessie Conroy can still recite some of the written words that made her cry.

Her world turned upside down by a trade-deadline deal that sent husband Craig from their happy home in St. Louis to Calgary, it was a column in the Calgary Sun that made the upcoming transition even harder.

“It said something like, ‘he’s a journeyman cut from same cloth as Jeff Shantz and Clarke Wilm,’” accurately recalled Jessie yesterday of an article that criticized the deal that sent Cory Stillman to the Blues for a mucker named Conroy.

“I cried for probably a good two weeks. We had been in St. Louis for five years, loved the neighbourhood and were part of the community. Then Craig is traded, and I’m reading all these things in the papers and I’m not sure I want to go there. It’s hard to read anything negative about your family at any time. It just caused a lot of anxiety.”

Indeed, the love affair between Craig Conroy and a town that will help him celebrate his 1,000th NHL game tonight got off to a rocky start. An offensively-challenged team seeking desperately to gain relevance, talent and its first playoff spot in five years sends one of its only goal scorers packing and brings in a 29-year-old defensive-minded centre whose best year saw him score 14 goals.

“Craig even said, ‘I have no idea why I’m going there — they have lots of checkers and they’re losing one of their leading goal scorers,’ ” said Jessie.

Outside of GM Craig Button, who cited the need to build up the middle, few believed the move would help the club short- or long-term.

Not even Jarome Iginla.

“Jarome thought it was a terrible trade, too — as we became friends, he told me that,” laughed Conroy. “Jarome is such a great guy, and I see the way he treats new guys when they come in — nice and friendly … but not with me.”

To be fair, the Flames had just fired coach Don Hay, Iginla’s junior coach, making it a tough time for No. 12.

“We saw potential,” laughed Iginla sheepishly when asked of his initial thoughts on the deal. “We only saw numbers. Good scouting.”

Being the good guy he is, Conroy cuts everyone slack given the fact most critics were indeed armed solely with numbers and were unaware of the tremendous character and personality he’d bring to the room and the community.

“Really, I could kind of understand why the fans were thinking the same thing — even I had to admit, I’m a checker and this does not look good,” said Conroy. “This trade looks lopsided.”

However, it didn’t take long for him to turn the tide the following year.

“Five games in Savvy (Marc Savard) got hurt in Detroit and Jarome and I got to play together and he got 20 goals in 20 games and suddenly it was like ‘oh, maybe he’s not that bad,’ ” said Conroy, who scored 27 times that year — a total Stillman never surpassed.

“In St. Louis, the articles were always so positive and good to me. So going from where it was always positive to all of a sudden I haven’t played a game and it’s negative. Deep down, I was wondering ‘Why did they trade for me?’ But hey, we ended up getting Mosser (David Moss — a seventh-round selection thrown into the deal) too, so it wasn’t that bad a trade.”

Tonight, he’ll be surrounded by his parents, his in-laws, his daughters, a team, organization and fan-base that adores the 39-year-old. Oh, and a supportive media corps that shed a tear or two when Conroy left briefly for Los Angeles.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis


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