Flames' Conroy now mentor

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:11 PM ET

Craig Conroy’s situation isn’t unique or unusual.

The 39-year-old Flames veteran is a healthy scratch more often than not, following in the footsteps of many NHLers who find ways to hang around even when their best playing days are behind them by being character contributors, helping those being groomed to replace them become better players.

Kirk Muller was there for him when he was a young member of the Montreal Canadiens trying to find his way.

Conroy has been there for Mikael Backlund, who has found himself beside the veteran as a healthy scratch at times as he attempts to become a regular contributor.

“It’s acceptance. In your career, you have to accept roles as your age changes, and as things change in the makeup of teams,” said head coach Brent Sutter of Conroy’s situation. “The players that do have longevity in their careers. That’s probably a good reason Connie has played as long as he has, because he’s gone from being this type of centreman, to being this type of centreman, to being this type of centreman over the course of his career.

“As you get up there, a little longer in the tooth, and depending on the makeup of your teams, your role changes. It’s hard to do it, but it’s understanding it and acceptance. Once you do that, you’re fine.

“It’s never something that you’re always going to be totally happy with, but you can’t change the way you are in the dressing room.”

Sutter speaks from experience.

In the latter stages of his long career, he found himself in a similar situation with the Chicago Blackhawks in the mid-90s.

“I was a 36-year-old player. I was a fourth-line player, and in and out of the lineup, and injured some. But it didn’t change who I was,” Sutter said.

“It didn’t change who I was in the dressing room. It didn’t change what I needed to do for my teammates, how I had to be in the room. It didnt’ change any of that.

“It probably added a couple of years to my career by doing that.”

Same goes for Conroy, who signed a two-way deal this summer in the hopes he could play at least one more year and reached the 1,000-game mark earlier this season.

He’s played just once in the last month, but has been valuable keeping others who find themselves on the sidelines in his company upbeat.

“I know my situation. You try to make ‘em feel better. It’s never a good feeling. You try to pull in the positives,” Conroy said, adding it’s even more important with a rookie like Backlund.

“It is a tough spot, you’re not playing and you feel bad. A young guy like that, they usually take it harder than most. You don’t want him to get discouraged. You want him to be positive.

“You try to be positive because you know how disappointed they are not to be in, even though you’re disappointed yourself not to play. But you can’t show them that.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


Videos

Photos