February 04, 2011
After 16 NHL seasons with the Calgary Flames, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues (and a couple cups of coffee with the Montreal Canadiens), the end has arrived for Craig Conroy(notes). The Sun reports he'll retire today at a press event for the Flames, and is expected to take a position within the organization.
I'll remember Conroy for two things, primarily. The first was as a hockey rarity: a defense-oriented player with the St. Louis Blues who was acquired by the Flames, paired with Jarome Iginla(notes) and then became a 75-point center back in 2001-02. It was the quintessential "put me in coach" moment for a veteran role player.
Gregarious and open, Conroy manages to be engaging in front of the press without being grating (like Jeremy Roenick(notes)) or an asshole (like Sean Avery(notes)). He mixes wide-eyed enthusiasm with candor - which is refreshing for fans used to the resuscitation of bland cliches by the majority of his peers.
He was someone whose joy in doing this for a living was apparent even when conditions turned arduous. Adam Proteau of The Hockey News nailed it late last month when Conroy was placed on waivers by the Flames:
You could count on one hand, and perhaps on one finger, how many pro athletes have been as amicable with the press as Conroy was. He never ducked out on a media scrum after a game; never tried to leverage a relationship with a writer to make himself look better at the expense of others; never flippantly tossed out cliches and condescending behavior with reporters the way many, if not most NHLers do nowadays.
Conroy was and is in love with the game and wanted to share that affection with everyone who felt similarly. It is no accident that he is so beloved by teammates (including good friend Jarome Iginla) and that the Flames players were so morose discussing his imminent departure.
That departure has arrived. Coming up, some video highlights (and one lowlight) from Craig Conroy.
Here's a sense of Conroy's comportment from a 2008 preseason interview:
Now, here's that candor cranked up to 11 after the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs' opening round vs. Vancouver:
Conroy, handling a grilling from the press:
One memorable lowlight: Scoring for the Toronto Maple Leafs off the faceoff, just like Ron Wilson planned it.
Inspiring romance from Jeremy Roenick with his play for the Kings.
Finally, perhaps the greatest tribute you can give a player from the mid-1990s:
One of a kind, that one. Fare three well, knucklehead.