TAMPA, Fla. — There are a lot of issues troubling Cory Conacher and the slumping Tampa Bay Lightning these days in the wake of Sunday’s firing of coach Guy Boucher. But the former Canisius College star had fun for a few minutes Tuesday morning when he was asked about his alma mater’s first-ever trip to the NCAA hockey tournament.
Canisius won the Atlantic Hockey championship last weekend in Rochester and will play top-seeded Quinnipiac on Saturday at 5:30 in Providence, R.I. Conacher tweeted his congratulations to the Ice Griffs over the weekend for an accomplishment that he didn’t achieve in his four years on Main Street.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch them again,” Conacher said. “I’ve watched Quinnipiac too this year ... and they have a chance at beating them as long as they stick to the game and the goalie is hot. The goalie [Tony Capobianco] has been hot all year. Hopefully he can continue to be hot and they can put a little run together like RIT.”
(RIT, remember, made the most unlikely Frozen Four run in NCAA history in 2010 by qualifying for the semifinals in Detroit).
Conacher especially liked the fact Canisius drove past archrival Niagara in the semifinals.
“That was impressive,” he said. “Niagara is a great team. They’re in the tournament too because of the way they’ve played this year. It was awesome to see them beat the Purple. We always have a huge rivalry against Niagara right across the [Grand Island] bridge and it was nice to get that win there.”
Tuesday’s game was the second of three meetings with the Sabres for Conacher. He will make his NHL debut in Buffalo when the Lightning visits April 14.
Conacher entered Tuesday’s game with nine goals and 23 points, tops in the NHL in points and assists (14) for rookies and second in goals. He said it was interesting to hear Lindy Ruff’s name prominently mentioned for the Tampa head coaching job but he wasn’t torn about whether Jon Cooper or Ruff got it.
That was especially so because Cooper was his coach last year at Norfolk of the AHL on a Calder Cup championship team and again this year at Syracuse before the lockout ended. Cooper will take over the Lightning at practice today and make his debut Friday against New Jersey.
“Both guys were coaches I’d probably have a lot of fun with and enjoy,” Conacher said. “I’m more torn that Guy Boucher had to go because he’s the guy who gave me such a good opportunity and had a lot of confidence with me.
“I had a good relationship with him but he’ll find another job because of the things he did with this organization. I’m excited to see Jon Cooper. It’s going to be really nice to see him. He deserves to be here.”
While meeting with reporters Tuesday morning, Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman insisted Cooper was his choice all along and that there was nothing to the speculation on both sides of the border that Ruff was his top candidate.
Ruff has a relationship with Yzerman from the 2010 Olympic team in Vancouver. The school of thought was that Yzerman was loath to promote another AHL coach, as the Lightning did in bringing Boucher from Hamilton in 2010.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I called Lindy yesterday to let him know what I was doing,” Yzerman said. “I had made my mind up when I decided to make the coaching change about what I was doing and that we were going with Jon Cooper.
“I just informed him. I thought it was important out of respect to Lindy that I’d made my decision previous to letting Guy go, that this was the direction I was going.”
Yzerman did not answer questions about whether he talked to Ruff about the position and said the delay in hiring Cooper was based on logistics, with the Lightning in Winnipeg on Sunday and Cooper’s Syracuse team needing to be properly staffed before he left.
Why not Ruff?
“There are other options that could have been the safer thing to do,” Yzerman admitted in a clear reference to Ruff. “Had Jon not been in our organization and me not know him really well, I may have gone a different way. This is my decision. I have no doubt this is the way I want to go.
“The biggest reason why is he’s been in our organization for three years and he’s done a great job. I’ve watched him and thought, ‘This guy is going to be an outstanding coach. We’re going to make a change. I’ve got him right here and this is the guy I’m going to go with.’ ”
The Sabres made no lineup changes for Tuesday’s game, scratching Drew Stafford and John Scott. Andrej Sekera missed his fifth straight game with an upper body injury but interim coach Ron Rolston said he could play Thursday at Florida.
In Rochester, defenseman Brayden McNabb suffered a lower-body injury in the first period Saturday night at Houston. The team has not updated his status other than to say it was day-to-day but McNabb was seen on crutches at practice Tuesday by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
The Amerks announced they have signed defenseman and Fredonia native Nick Bailen to an amateur tryout. Bailen led RPI this season in scoring with 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 35 games. He was an All-ECAC pick the last two years. He played for the Indiana Ice of the USHL and attended high school in Indiana.