How stint helping Flames’ bench showed Conroy hockey’s on-ice evolution

Eric Francis and Ryan Leslie discuss Flames interim head coach Geoff Wards coaching philosophy and how Ward is getting the most out of his players.

CALGARY — Craig Conroy has officially been relieved of bench duties with the Calgary Flames. Okay, that’s a tad dramatic.

The Flames assistant GM has simply finished a two-game stint at ice level, where he was asked to spend the last nine days huddled up with the coaches as an observer and helping hand.

The fact that it ended in bloodshed Wednesday is mere coincidence.

“I hit Janko (Mark Jankowski) right in the mouth… bleeding,” explained Conroy, minutes after concluding practice.

“I felt bad. I wanted him to shake me off and drive the net, and he hit my stick and it hit him square in the mouth. He asked if there was blood. I said, ‘a little.’ He’s in there icing it now. I’m definitely out of here.”

Mere hours after Akim Aliu alleged that Bill Peters had previously directed a racial slur towards him, Flames GM Brad Treliving asked Conroy if he’d join the team on the ice the next day to aid associate-turned-interim head coach Geoff Ward.

Ward then asked him and assistant Martin Gelinas to join him behind the bench, as the two typically watch games from the press box.

Happy to do what he could at a difficult time for the organization, Conroy borrowed Mark Giordano’s skates in Buffalo and helped run drills, offered feedback and provided encouragement. He even stayed late to team up with Gelinas for a two-on-two grudge match with the healthy scratches, which he claims to have won in Buffalo despite ill-fitting Bauers.

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His takeaways?

“You kind of remember when you played and think, ‘well, it was only 2010-11,’ but so much had changed really,” chuckled the former Flames captain and 1,000-game man, who is now 48.

“Especially the first game, the pace blew me away, and how much quicker it is than from above. I had never seen an iPod on the bench; they’re changing skate blades bam-bam-bam; they’re changing gloves like crazy. I wore my gloves all game. We used to come in after and dry them. Now they’re flying all over the guys’ heads.

“Now we have to pick which side for the faceoff too, so there are a lot of new things going on since I played.”

Admittedly unsure where to stand and what to do or say, the organization’s best talker kept mostly to himself.

“That first game I was nervous too – I’ll be honest – you don’t want to get into their routine or say something,” he said with a smile.

“You don’t want to talk too much because I didn’t love when the coach talked to me that much. At certain times, no problem. But not every shift. That drove me crazy.

“I’d sometimes tell a guy like, ‘you’ve got to bear down there and shoot on that 2-on-1. Don’t defer.’ Sometimes young guys defer to older players. I’d say, ‘hey, you were in a good spot and you were actually passing out of a good spot. Just shoot.’ You want to keep it small talk and positive talk.”

Taking cues from former coaches such as Joel Quenneville, he said he kept reminding the players of the time and score.

He was struck by just how much communication there is on the bench.

“On TV it looks like a lot of the time to me like the bench is very quiet – it’s actually not as quiet as I thought,” said Conroy, a former centre who stood at all times by the forwards.

“It was good to see how everyone interacts and all the things going on. It was interesting.”

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It didn’t take long for him to feel the urge to yell at the officials again.

“We kind of had a reputation of being on the refs but I thought we weren’t on the refs,” said Conroy.

“There are a couple times you wanted to yell, ‘that’s a penalty,’ but just be quiet. I don’t need to be yelling at the refs, but it kind of comes natural when you are on the bench.”

He enjoyed skating with the lads again and took note of just how impressive of a pace and tone leaders like Milan Lucic and Giordano take in practice.

Happy he got the chance, he’s also thrilled it won’t be turning into a new career path.

“Oh no, I didn’t want to do it for a long time – Tre said it was for a short period of time,” chuckled Conroy, who generally spends plenty of time on both sides of the pond, scouting amateur, pro and college prospects .

“We have college free agents, the draft, I’ve been over to Europe and seen a lot of players. I feel really comfortable where I am in my other job. And that’s my job.

“It’s nice to be at a level to see (Buffalo’s Victor) Olofsson and guys you’ve watched, to see how they’re doing. Gives you a better perspective when I’m going out and scouting guys. It’s good to get that perspective. It will make me appreciate when I go back up next game. I won’t be as nit-picky then.”

Nor will he let anyone forget he’ll wrap up the stint a perfect 2-0.

“(Flames PR, Sean) Kelso is putting it in the bio now,” he said, laughing.

“You don’t want to jeopardize that perfect record – there’s no point.”

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