Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning rookie Cory Conacher a honey badger lover, too

The thing Cory Conacher enjoys most about that YouTube video that extols the virtues of the honey badger is the animal is portrayed as such a relentlessly fierce beast.

"A honey badger kind of does whatever it wants," Conacher said. "It's a gritty creature."

In other words, the Lightning's rookie left wing embraces the nickname given him last season at AHL Norfolk.

"Definitely a compliment," said Jon Cooper, Conacher's coach with the Admirals. "If you ever watch the video, the honey badger takes what it wants."

And that is Conacher, 23, whose goal was to play in the NHL and who (in fewer than two years) has gone from college star to minor-league sensation to a player some believe could compete for rookie of the year.

Conacher's five points, on two goals and three assists, entered Thursday tied for the league lead among first-year players and tied for second among all players.

He not only is getting power-play time, he is on a line with Vinny Lecavalier and getting spot duty with Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis.

"A dream start," the former undrafted free agent said.

"Playing with guys you idolized your whole hockey career is pretty amazing. I'll probably tear up in the summer when I actually realize I played in the NHL."

There is no reason to believe Conacher's start is a fluke.

The Burlington, Ontario, native — he is a distant relative of NHL Hall of Famers Charlie, Roy and Lionel Conacher — has a sense for being in the right place at the right time. During Tuesday's 4-1 victory over the Hurricanes, he followed Lecavalier to the net and scored on a rebound.

He is fast, too, and coach Guy Boucher said Conacher, averaging 14:41 of ice time, actually has led Stamkos and St. Louis on the rush.

"He pushes the pace for them," Boucher said. "That's hard to do."

Most important, though, is how quickly Conacher reads plays and reacts. During Monday's 4-3 loss to the Islanders, his perfect pass to Stamkos in front of the net was so quick and precise, it left no time for the defense or goalie to react before Stamkos scored.

"I even do a little visualization before the game," Conacher said. "I visualize certain circumstances on the ice so if they do happen, I'm ready for it. I've already gone through my head what is the right play to make."

"The kid has unbelievable instincts," said Cooper, now coaching AHL Syracuse, the Lightning's new affiliate. "It's crazy. I don't know how to describe it. He can make passes through opponents that are impossible. That's why we call him 'Honey Badger.' He can adapt to what's going on and play at a high rate of speed."

And he does it despite being a Type I diabetic and an undersized — by NHL standards — 5 feet 8, 179 pounds.

Conacher's lack of size certainly contributed to him being undrafted. His skills never were an issue.

As a Canisius College junior, Conacher, with 20 goals and 53 points, was the Atlantic Hockey Association's 2009-10 player of the year. In 2011-12, after finishing school and being signed by the Lightning the previous July, Conacher, with 39 goals and 80 points, was AHL rookie of the year and MVP.

"He's such a smart player," Lecavalier said. "He skates hard. He skates in the corners. He does the little things right, and it's paying off for him."

With a honey of a nickname.

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