Sunday, October 23, 2016

Brush with greatness: Craig Conroy

I am not in the mood to look at my Dodgers cards. And I think you can understand why I'm not showing any Cubs cards either. I'm one of the few not caught up in Cubs hysteria.

In fact, baseball doesn't mean a lot to me right now. Oh, I'll get over it in a day or two. But right now it seems like baseball's dead and hockey season is here. So, why not bore you all with a hockey card?

To extend my Brush With Greatness series a little longer, I finally picked up a card of Craig Conroy, the former U.S. Olympian who played in the Stanley Cup finals with the Calgary Flames and also played in the NHL for the Canadiens, Blues and Kings.

Conroy grew up in an extreme northern New York outpost called Potsdam. It's a college town and since it is so far removed from civilization and civilized weather -- I've often wondered why college-bound kids would pick such a remote location for four of the finest years of their lives -- one of the most popular leisurely pursuits in the area is hockey.

Conroy's dad played Division I hockey for Clarkson University, which is in Potsdam. Craig also played for Clarkson. That is when I first came across him . I was the team's beat writer for his senior season in college, a year in which he finished runner-up for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. (The Hobey Baker doesn't release vote totals, but there are ways to find out who finished second).

Before I started covering the beat, people told me how accommodating Conroy was. And he was. He is the most cooperative professional athlete -- perhaps athlete, period -- that I have ever interviewed. His personality has a lot to do with it. He is personable, happy, easy-going and a good conversationalist. Always a smile on his face. He was very popular during his college days and it didn't go to his head.

We followed Conroy on his way to the pros -- his struggles early on with Montreal, his emergence with St. Louis, his breakout years with Calgary, his detour to L.A., and then back to Calgary again, where he retired in 2011. He was always approachable as far as I can remember and not difficult to contact. Wherever he went, stories would mention his popularity. It wasn't a surprise to me.

To this day, he is the only Brush With Greatness athlete I have interviewed in his home.

I feel a bit odd when I am let into the home of someone I am profiling. It's happened a number of times and I feel both honored and like I'm infringing on someone's territory. But Conroy, like many who I've interviewed in their homes, was a perfect host.

It was a little over 10 years ago, during the NHL strike, after the Flames had reached the Finals. It was Christmas time and I talked to him at his summer home by the lake, a Christmas tree with boxes underneath in the background.

That's the photo we took of Conroy, his wife, Jessie, and his family for that story. All of his daughters are teenagers now.

Conroy would go on to play over 15 years and more than 1,000 games in the NHL, and as someone who was there when he was first starting out in the pros, there were plenty of people who thought he'd never get that far.

I'd like to think that his friendly nature had something to with that.

Today, Conroy is an assistant general manager for the Flames, which seems weird to me, since he always seemed like just one of the guys. I've kind of lost touch with him as we don't do a lot of "general manager stories."

But I'm happy I finally have a card of the most pleasant athlete I've ever interviewed.


  1. Very cool, this hockey fan didn't find that boring at all.

  2. I didn't know he was from Potsdam. Cool! Great story!

  3. I went to college, from out of state even. SUNY Potsdam had a supposedly vaunted computer science program in the 1980's. Maybe it was in fact really good but I hated it and dropped out of it quickly. Remained there because I'd fallen in love with the woman who was to become my ex-wife. No matter because I've made my living in IT for the past twenty years of my career. To this day I have a serious aversion to cold weather and I think living through four winters there is mostly responsible for that. Funny you posted this, since just this morning I had a dream about the place. I was having too much fun to study and was getting really bad grades, ha ha.

  4. That is a great story! I've kind of switched to Penguins mode myself. I plan on enjoy the World Series as a neutral fan, but the Pens give me something to root for.

  5. I've been all over central and western NY State but only been up near Potsdam once, on my way back from visiting Montreal and Ottawa many years ago. Driving around on the 'off the beaten track' roads up around there was a memorable experience. Thanks for stirring up those memories.

  6. Great story. Nice card. How awesome it must be for an athlete to invite someone into their home? That's just unfathomable.