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Undrafted free agent Cory Conacher in mix for roster spot with Tampa Bay Lightning

BRANDON — By the time Lightning left wing Cory Conacher got off the ice Wednesday in Orlando, he had about 50 Twitter, text and Facebook messages waiting for him.

There were more, he said, by the time he woke up Thursday.

Scoring your first NHL goal in your first NHL game, as Conacher did in Tampa Bay's preseason loss to the Blues, will do that. Having the coach say you are in the mix to win a roster spot didn't hurt, either.

"It's incredible," Conacher said. "I can't explain it. It's something I'll always remember."

But as exciting as the situation is — Conacher, 21, an undrafted free agent signed to a minor-league contract and in his first NHL camp, forcing the Lightning to take notice — the Burlington, Ontario, native knows this is no time to get ahead of himself or to read press clippings.

"I'm still trying to make a name for myself," Conacher said Thursday at the Ice Sports Forum and added, "I've always been humble. My parents always taught me that. I'm not a guy to spread the word myself, but obviously you see it. You try not to get your head too big."

That said, "As long as I skate hard and do my things, I think it's going to be hard for (the Lightning) to turn me down."

Conacher instantly realized how that sounded.

"But I'd enjoy playing in Norfolk, too," he said of the team's AHL affiliate. "Just being in this system is incredible."

This is a big weekend for Conacher, who plays tonight against the Panthers in Tampa Bay's only preseason game at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.

The team will make major cuts Sunday, so tonight's game and Saturday's at Florida might be the last chances to impress.

Though Conacher's speed and offensive instincts are evident, more impressive for coach Guy Boucher is his defensive awareness, especially his willingness to back-check.

"He's proving he can play," Boucher said. "He's adapting every day. Usually when guys adapt that quick, there's a lot more coming. But he has to keep showing he can be reliable to be put on the ice on the NHL level."

Conacher hasn't come completely out of nowhere.

He had a successful four seasons at Division I Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., from where he graduated with a finance degree and 12 school records, including 62 goals, 12 winners and 147 points. He also is a distant relative of Hall of Famers Charlie and Lionel Conacher.

But he is small — 5 feet 8, 175 pounds — which probably is why he was not drafted, though he is about the same size as Marty St. Louis.

"Now he's with an organization that believes in what small guys can do," Canisius coach Dave Smith said. "He goes to the dirty areas, to the corners. He battles. He does whatever the situation calls for."

Conacher has Type I diabetes. He checks his blood sugar before games and between periods, and takes insulin whenever he eats, using a pump about the size of an MP3 player that he attaches with a needle to a port in his left hip.

"It's all about eating right and getting enough sleep," Conacher said of dealing with his condition.

As for what he's dealing with at camp, "It's been an awesome experience. Whatever happens, happens. I'll go wherever they want me to"

Exactly the right message.

NOTES: The camp roster was reduced to 53 as 2011 first-round draft pick Vladislav Namestnikov was returned to juniors. "He's quick enough and smart enough," general manager Steve Yzerman said. "He just needs more time and physical development." … Yzerman said he did not believe defenseman Mattias Ohlund will face supplemental discipline for his elbow on Blues right wing Ryan Reaves for which Ohlund received a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Undrafted free agent Cory Conacher in mix for roster spot with Tampa Bay Lightning 09/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 22, 2011 10:05pm]
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