Decision made: Shane Conacher signs with the Toronto Marlies

By Dominic Chamberlain

Sports Editor

The Griffs hockey season did not end the way they had envisioned it. A second round elimination from the Atlantic Hockey tournament meant the season was over and they were going to look at what was left for next season. The Griffs knew that Seniors Ralph Cuddemi and Mathew Backhouse would be moving on due to graduation.

However while most of us enjoyed our spring break, the Griffs were informed that their top player from the 2015-2016 campaign would not be returning next season. On March 26 it was announced that Shane Conacher signed a contract to join the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League (AHL). The decision came with the cost of Conacher forgoing his senior season at Canisius.

It was a move that everyone knew would happen at some point. Conacher is too good of a talent to not play professional hockey at some level. Ideally that move would have come after four seasons of playing for the Griffs but Conacher had an opportunity and he took it.

Conacher joins the top team in the AHL in the Marlies as they sit atop the league with 105 points and 50 wins to this point in their season. The Marlies have also clinched a postseason berth and can seemingly do no wrong right now.

It’s actually a bit odd that the Marlies are doing so well. The Marlies are the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs who are currently sitting in the bottom half of the NHL standings.  It is no secret that the Maple Leafs are in the rebuilding process. Head coach Mike Babcock in his first year with the team has traded away his captain, Dion Phaneuf, seemingly to put his team at the front of the line for the “Steven Stamkos sweepstakes.” Stamkos will be the top free agent at the end of this year and will command a lot of money. With the Leafs trading away Phaneuf, they freed up even more money for Stamkos.

The other factor of the Maple Leafs rebuilding that pertains a bit more to Conacher is the current roster. Babcock and the Leafs decided to call up multiple players from the Marlies roster to their NHL roster. This in turn created opportunities at the AHL level for the organization. Coupled with a few injuries within the organization, the Marlies needed to find some new talent and Conacher was on their radar. After finishing his Canisius career with 106 points, the most of any Griff in his first three seasons, Conacher joined the Marlies in Toronto for his first professional game.

To start his professional career, Conacher faced the NHL All-Star game’s most valuable player John Scott and the St. Johns Ice Caps.  The Marlies won the game 5-3 Conacher recorded no points and finished the night with a plus/minus of minus one. Conacher would suit up in his number 22 Marlies uniform three days later to play the Ice Caps again at home. This game ended much like his first game with the team; a Marlies win but no points from the former Griff. After sitting out the Marlies next game, Conacher found himself back in the line-up to face the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings. It was in this game that the Marlies got a taste of what we here at Canisius had experienced with Conacher for three years. Conacher recorded both his first professional assist and goal in this game. Conacher’s goal started in his own zone after he intercepted a pass and sent the puck ahead into the neutral zone. He would eventually regain possession and dish the puck off to his teammate Ben Smith as they entered the offensive zone. Conacher then received the puck back from Smith and found himself with no one to beat but the goalie. Conacher pulled the puck to his backhand and slipped it underneath a sprawling goalie to notch his first goal. His efforts earned him the honor of being the second star of the game in just his third professional start.

While the Marlies are starting to see exactly what Conacher can bring to the table, the Griffs will no longer feel his presences. The Griffs will now lose their two best players instead of just one. Conacher and Cuddemi were, without a doubt the two best players on the team. Without the duo, Ryan Schmelzer will be looked at as the guy to lead the offense and the 12 freshmen that just finished their first year of college hockey will have an increased roll. Dylan McLaughlin and Felix Chamberland both had good years offensively. Next season at least one of those two players will more than likely join Schmelzer on the top line.

“We are extremely happy for Shane as he continues his career at the next level,” Griffs head coach Dave Smith told gogriffs.com “He has helped elevate our program during his three years here and I’m excited to see him continue that success as a pro. We have accomplished a lot with the Conacher family at Canisius and it will be fun to see if Shane can reach the level his brother did after a successful collegiate career with the Griffs.”

Conacher follows in his older brother, Cory’s, footsteps by going pro. Cory played in both the AHL and NHL and currently plays for SC Bern of the National League A. Before his brother’s debut, Cory tweeted out “Big CONGRATS and GOODLUCK to @SConacher19 as he plays in his first professional hockey game today with the @TorontoMarlies #proudbrother.”

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