Conroy finds net, and video game tips, in Calgary
Team mascot. College phenom. NHL prospect. First-line player. Craig Conroy has done it all en route to a solid 10-year NHL career. Conroy's next goal is to help the Calgary Flames complete the job they couldn't finish in the 2004 playoffs -- win the Stanley Cup.
In this week's Facing Off, the Flames spark plug tells us what it's like to get beat up by Jarome Iginla, what role he played in nearly getting Rory Fitzpatrick sent to the All-Star Game and how he helped put Clarkson University on the hockey map.
Question from David Amber: After growing up in Potsdam, N.Y., are you a Yankees or Mets fan?
Answer from Craig Conroy: A Yankee fan! I'd be shot if I were a Met fan [laughs].
Q: Yeah, but it's been six years without a World Series win for the Yanks. What's the problem?
A: I know. For everybody else, they'd be excited if it were only six years, but for us, we want it every year. Pitching is the problem, but I think now that everyone's back, we'll be all right. This will be our year.
Q: Were you a Rangers or Islanders fan?
A: Actually, I liked the Montreal Canadiens. It was easy to like them because they were winning all the time. I liked the Rangers, too. When I was young, I always dreamed about playing for the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
• While playing at Clarkson University, Conroy led the ECAC in assists and points during the 1993-94 season.
• He was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the sixth round (123rd overall) in the 1990 NHL draft.
• Conroy was named an NHL offensive player of the week this season (Oct. 17-23).
• He finished fifth in playoff scoring with 17 points in 2004.
• He played for the United States in the 2004 World Cup and 2006 Winter Olympics.
Q: So, it must have been a cool moment when you were drafted by the Canadiens.
A: That was a thrill. I mean, growing up, watching "Hockey Night in Canada," every Saturday, Montreal was on TV. Then, getting to go sit in that locker room and looking at all the pictures of the great players that had played in Montreal. I remember thinking that even if I didn't play a single game in the NHL, I have done what I set out to do. To be a part of that team and organization was awesome.
Q: Most veterans don't have to room with anyone on the road, but since you got traded midseason, do you have to?
A: No, I'm solo. No one wants to room with me anyway, I talk too much. They won't get any sleep. The guys let me eat with them and then I go back to my room and watch TV by myself [laughs].
Q: What do you watch?
A: I am a reality television junkie. I watch every reality show out there. I've just started watching the new one where they're looking for the next Pussycat Doll. I can't get enough. I don't know what's wrong with me [laughs].
Q: What's your all-time favorite reality show?
A: I loved the early "Survivor" shows, and I always watch "Big Brother" in the summer. I watch "American Idol," but I like it more at the beginning when they really stink because that's how I sing [laughs].
Q: Recently, I watched a really interesting documentary called "In the Crease" [www.inthecreasemovie.com], which focused on a California-based junior hockey team trying to get to nationals. You were interviewed for the movie. What do you know about the movie?
A: The directors told me the story and then they interviewed me. It's cool that they made a hockey documentary. I've heard great things about the film.
Q: In the movie, you said your father played pro hockey in Syracuse and you were the team mascot. What's the story there?
A: I probably was about 4 years old and, at the time, they [the Syracuse Blazers] were looking for a mascot. I was the only kid that could skate, so they put a little jersey on me and I would just fly around the ice for only a few minutes during warm-ups. But the fans loved it. My mom told me when I would come off the ice, fans wanted autographs. I was only 4, so I would just scribble something since I couldn't write my name yet. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Those are the little things you remember.
Q: "In the Crease" really gave a sense that hockey is growing among youths across the United States. How do you think interest in the game has changed since you were a kid?
A: It's amazing. During the lockout, I went to Lake Placid to watch a tournament. I couldn't believe where the teams are coming from now. There was a team from L.A., a team from Dallas. They had teams from everywhere. Playing in L.A., I saw firsthand that there are rinks all over the place, so many good young players coming up. It's nice to see the game is growing in popularity all around the country.
Q: You played hockey at Clarkson University at a time when not too many NHL prospects were going there. How do you think your NHL success has helped build up the program at Clarkson?
A: Just getting the school name out there helps. When the announcers name "Craig Conroy from Clarkson" on TV, people remember that. I mean, there are other guys, too -- Chris Clark, Erik Cole, of course. Cole winning the Cup was huge for Clarkson. When kids are watching "Hockey Night In Canada" or whatever games, and they hear the school name, it helps when they get a letter from Clarkson expressing interest in them. They know what the school is and hopefully they say, "Cool, Craig Conroy went there. Chris Clark, Erik Cole, Dave Taylor went there." Sometimes, I get phone calls from kids who are thinking about going there and they ask me what I think, and I tell them it is a great college program.
Q: Going into your draft year, and the draft itself, what were you expecting?
A: I played in prep school with Chris Therrien, and I knew he was going to get drafted. I think he went third round to Philly. For me, I really didn't think about it. I just got a phone call one day and they said, "You just got drafted 123rd overall by the Montreal Canadiens," and I was like, "What?" I thought it was a joke. I thought one of my buddies was messing with me. But when I heard the French accent, I knew it was serious. I didn't even go to the draft because I didn't expect to be taken.
Q: Your draft year  had Jaromir Jagr, Martin Brodeur, Owen Nolan, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Darryl Sydor, Geoff Sanderson, Sergei Zubov, Alexei Zhamnov, Robert Lang, Peter Bondra, Derian Hatcher and other good players. How would this group of 35-year-old guys do today as a team in the NHL?
A: [Laughs] Well, we'd have a lot of fun, I know that, especially outside the rink. You know, we'd be competitive. A lot of those guys are still great players in the league right now. Jagr still makes it seem effortless out there. That's a competitive group of guys, and we'd have something to prove, so I think it would bode well for us.
Q: Weight and Tkachuk -- you've played with them on the U.S. national team. Who do you think is the greatest American-born player in the game?
A: I got to play with Brett Hull, so I would have said him. But since you said American-born, I think Mike Modano. With his career and the things he's done, it's hard not to say him. I also like [Jeremy] Roenick, [Pat] LaFontaine. There are so many guys I can pick; but for longevity and what he has done for his organization, I will say Modano.
Q: On the home page of your Web site, it reads, "In hockey, success comes from intensity." What does that slogan mean to you?
A: If you're not intense and you're not willing to sacrifice your body, block shots and things like that, then someone will out-battle you and you'll lose. You need intensity to win those battles and ultimately win games.
Q: Who is the most intense player you have played with?
A: [Pause] I would have to say Jarome [Iginla]. Right before a game, he just zones right in on what he wants to do. He throws a towel over his head and sits there for a while. Leading up to the game, he will joke around and have fun, but as soon as he starts to focus, you can't talk to him because he's just ready to roll. It's all business.
Q: Tell us something about Jarome that fans may not know.
A: [Pause] Let me think. He's a total computer geek. He plays computer games all the time. He practices for hours and hours and we play on plane trips and he always has to win. He takes it to another level. I think he had this guy from Germany help him online to create a cheat sheet on how to win the game. We play "Age of Empires," a battlefield game, and he's so into it. He actually ruins the game. It's not even fun playing him [laughs].
Q: In January, you were traded by Los Angeles back to Calgary and were reunited with Iginla. How did you find out about the trade?
A: We were coming from Edmonton, and we stopped in Red Deer, Alberta, for a team skate at an outdoor rink. They had about 1,000 people there to watch, and I was the last one off the ice. I was signing autographs because it's so close to Calgary and there were lots of Flames fans that had my jersey from when I played there before. They were saying, "We miss you in Calgary," and I was saying, "I miss Calgary, too. I always loved it there." As I was getting off the ice, the Kings PR guy came up to me and said, "Coach Crawford wants to talk to you." So, I thought, "This is trouble." I went up to Crawford, and he said, "You've been traded here." I said, "Here? I've been traded to Red Deer?" [Laughs]. So, I was traded to Calgary, the rest of the team got on the bus for the next game and I waited for a car to pick me up. It was pretty crazy to leave my team that way.
Q: Your first game with Calgary was against the Kings, and you scored two goals. How weird was that experience?
A: It was uncomfortable. I literally still went to dinner with my former team just hours before the game. I got in late that night after the trade and Jarome invited me over to his place, but I didn't want to bug him. So, I went to the hotel and ended up going out to dinner with [Mike] Cammalleri and [Aaron] Miller instead. It was weird because we battled the next day. It was a tough night, but with the two goals and the win, it was a storybook ending for me.
Q: You're averaging nearly a point a game since being traded to Calgary. What is it about that situation that gets the best out of you offensively?
A: Playing with [Alex] Tanguay and Jarome isn't going to hurt [laughs]. I just feel like I'm part of something special. When people really care, it brings the best out of me. The added pressure of playing in Canada, where people care so much, I thrive in that situation.
Q: A few years ago, you were the Flames captain until you gave up the "C" to Iginla. Why did you do that?
A: In my own mind, I thought it was time for Jarome to take over the team. Even though it was his team already, officially naming him the captain made sense. So, I went and asked him and said, "I think it's time you were the captain," and he accepted. He never said anything or made any comments. He told me he thought I was a good captain. I appreciated that, but I told him he was the face of the organization, he was going to be here for a while and he deserved to be the official leader.
Q: But the one nice benefit to being captain is, if you win the Cup, it's commissioner Gary Bettman handing you the Cup first.
A: [Laughs] I know, that's true. You look at all the publicity [Rod] Brind'Amour got, that would be nice. But you watch those playoff games and you see how important Jarome is to the city and the team, it's easy to give it to him.
Q: A decade ago, you were traded with Rory Fitzpatrick to the Blues. What did you think when he came within a few thousand votes of making the All-Star team, thanks in part to a fan-driven Internet campaign?
A: [Laughs] I bet you he was going through living hell. Knowing Rory, he's a great guy and he would rather draw as little attention to himself as possible. He's from Rochester, so we hang out in the summer a little bit, and he is so low-key, so laid-back. I actually voted for him eight or 10 times. I wanted to see him make the team. I thought, "It's probably killing him, but I have to do it." He probably would have declined, but I thought the whole thing was fun to watch.
Q: You have never had more than 60 penalty minutes in a season, and you have been a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy. If you were NHL commissioner, how would you change the league's approach to fighting?
A: I would like to see the instigator rule thrown out. There probably would be more fights, but I don't think you would have as many of the hits from behind, the liberties on your superstars. A lot has been made of Crosby getting hit this year. You have to protect those guys. Right now, the tough guys can't protect the stars. I'd like to see what would happen without the instigator rule; who knows, I may have to fight a few more times. But after Iginla beat me up in St. Louis, I said, "I'm done with this." I thought he was supposed to be a goal scorer, but he kicked the crap out of me [laughs].
Q: You two dropped the gloves?
A: Yeah, just one time, and that was the last time. He put a pretty good beating on me. It's funny, no one lets me forget that. We had a rookie dinner here this year. Rhett Warrener had a video made up from this season, and right at the end, that fight somehow got in there and everybody thought it was hilarious. After Jarome and I became friends, he said, "You know, sorry about beating you up that year." [Laughs]. We can laugh about it now.
Q: Right now, who is the favorite to win the Cup?
A: I think everyone likes Buffalo. They have a great team, their injured players are starting to come back and Ryan Miller is a great goalie. Buffalo is the team everybody is talking about.
Q: The Flames have the league's best home record, but no team in the NHL has won fewer road games. How do you explain the difference in play for this team?
A: It's unbelievable. I wish I could explain it, but there's really nothing to put your finger on. I think part of the problem is it has snowballed. Now, we put so much pressure on winning on the road, it just consumes us all day. That's all we talk about, and then, when we get out there, we play tight. We need to relax, but guys are scared to make a mistake. We just need to relax and play and let things happen.
Q: In your first stint with the Flames, you came within one win of capturing the Stanley Cup. How long does it take to get over a disappointment like that?
A: With the lockout the following year, it seemed like a year and a half because that's all that anyone talked about. Every time I turned on the TV and they were talking about the lockout, they were showing Tampa Bay with the Cup. It was frustrating. We couldn't just get back at it after two months. We had to wait so long to get back on the ice, so it took me a long time to get over it. It lingers with you. But I hope this summer we can move on and finish the job properly.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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