Flames pay their respects to Conroy



(Kristen Odland is a new contributor here at Flamesnation. Kristen comes to us via the Calgary Herald and will be classing the place up a bit. She attended Craig Conroy’s retirment PC today and is good enough to share some of her observations here.)

Aside from the assembled media, every seat in the Telus Conference Centre at the Scotiabank Saddledome was filled by a member of the Calgary Flames.

On a day off, no less.

But fresh off Thursday night’s win in Atlanta, the team paid their respects to their friend and teammate Craig Conroy who announced on Friday that he would be retiring upstairs as a — take a deep breath — special assistant to the acting general manager Jay Feaster.

"We just wanted to support him and come out today," said Flames defenceman Cory Sarich. "We knew it wasn’t going to be a long event …’"

He paused.

"Wait, I shouldn’t say that. We weren’t sure HOW long he was going to talk for," Sarich said, referring to Conroy’s — ahem — confidence in front of a microphone. "Connie deserves our respect. He’s been a fantastic teammate.

"It was the least we could do."

Conroy packed away his career on Friday as a veteran of 1009 National Hockey League games — 507 thanks to the Calgary Flames including his 1000th game back in October. After 17 years, the 39-year-old recorded 542 points including 182 points and another 30 points in 81 playoff games. His NHL career took him to Montreal, St. Louis, Calgary, Los Angeles, and back to Calgary again.

And Calgary is where he wanted to stay.

But there were no tears or Kleenex boxes on hand when he announced his retirement.

"After taking time sitting down with Ken (King) and Jay and seeing guys retire when they are 30, 31 and they’re emotional," Conroy said. "I think I’ve come to grips with it. And, you know, I’m good with it.

"It’s time to turn one chapter and move forward with my life."

In his new role, Conroy will serve as a liaison between the players and management and will work on scouting assignments, mentoring draftees, player evaluations, and will travel to Abbotsford frequently to interact with, watch, and report on the Flames’ AHL prospects.

"When Ken asked me if there was an interest on my part in having Craig be a part of the front office and part of the  management team, I jumped at that opportunity," Feaster said. "It was actually very, very easy to put together a job description together of the areas that Craig could be a tremendous asset for this organization.

"He knows a number of the young players in this system, he knows some of the kids in Abbotsford, he’s trained with them. For him to be able to go there and talk to those players on what you have to do to prepare yourself to be a professional … I just think he’s a tremendous resource for us."

And having a new personality in upper management, of course, can’t hurt.

Interestingly enough, Feaster pointed out that during the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2004 — when Feaster was the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning — they were concerned about Miikka Kiprusoff. About facing Jarome Iginla.

But they were also concerned about facing Conroy.

"We thought that he had the ability — through his sheer personality — to will a team to be able to win a seven-game series," noted Feaster. "We’re thrilled to have him aboard."

On Friday, Conroy made the announcement with his wife Jessie and their three daughters — Taylor, 13, Sophia, 11, and Sydney, 6 — at his side.

He made it clear that staying in Calgary was preferable. Briefly, Conroy reflected on his playing career in the city. To him, the fans made all the difference.

"For me to play — even finish and retire — in Calgary … leaving to go to L.A. was a very hard decision. I didn’t want to make that decision," Conroy said. "But it was the lockout, there was a lot of stuff going on, I had to do what was best for my family and myself.

"When Darryl brought me back, it was special … the way the fans treated me. I’ve said it over and over again, that’s what makes Calgary so special for me. Whether it was walking down the street this past week or when we were making that (‘04 playoff) run, they’ve always treated me with nothing but respect."

Conroy said he called Jarome Iginla, quizzing him about the new role and what the players would think of it.

Would it make them uncomfortable?

"He said ‘No, actually I think these young guys thought that’s what you were doing already," Conroy said, causing the entire room to break out in laughter. "I’d hate to say it, but it’s probably true."

And it goes without saying his presence will be missed in the dressing room.

"He goes out of his way for everybody," Sarich said. "He can make a young 18-year-old in the dressing room feel comfortable as well as us old guys. We all get along together. He’s one of those guys that got along with everybody. He had no qualms with anybody. He brought a smile to the rink every day and enjoyed what he had to do.

"Guys like that are pretty special."