Of all the ways Shane Conacher can emulate his older brother, this was something he could have skipped.
When Cory Conacher entered Canisius as a freshman in 2007, he injured his hand and missed the first 17 games of the season.
When Shane began his Golden Griffins career this fall, he broke his jaw in his first collegiate game and missed the next nine games.
Leave it to baby brother.
Luckily Cory had been through it before and was able to offer big brotherly advice.
“Every day I told him to keep his head up,” Cory said. “The injury is a little frustrating and I told him I was in the same situation. I told him to just practice hard and to make sure he was ready for when he came back.”
Maybe the injury becomes a blessing in disguise for Shane, who returned to action for the Golden Griffins against Connecticut and scored his first collegiate goal Friday at Army. Maybe the temporary setback will temper the preseason hype. Shane was a preseason all-rookie team selection for Atlantic Hockey and runner-up for the conference’s preseason rookie of the year nod by SB Nation. And while those accolades are based on his own skills and reputation, you can bet his inherited status as Cory Conacher’s younger brother turned some heads.
Cory returns to Buffalo tonight with the Ottawa Senators in the midst of his second NHL season. His breakout professional year came in 2011-12 with the Norfolk Admirals when the team won the Calder Cup and he was named the AHL’s most valuable player.
Last season he made his NHL debut with the Tampa Bay Lightning before being traded to Ottawa in April.
While he has struggled to find consistency with the Senators this season with just two goals and three assists, Cory is the first full-time NHL player to emerge from Western New York Division I hockey.
In many ways, he remains the face of Canisius hockey. He is the all-time leading scorer (147 points) and all-time leader in goals (62) among the seven school records he owns for the Griffs’ Division I era.
Cory Conacher’s name is still spoken in hushed, reverent tones in these parts.
Shane could have chosen to continue his hockey career at another school, getting away from the shadow of Cory. Then again, Shane never really felt overshadowed by his older brother.
“Shane really has never had to deal with being in Cory’s shadow,” their father, Dave Conacher, said. “But it was a discussion. We had a wonderful, frank discussion with Shane about how he felt. He said, ‘You know what. I’ll go up there and break his records.’ So it didn’t seem to be a concern for Shane. There never was any sibling rivalry. Shane just wanted to do what the others were doing.”
The notion for Shane to break Cory’s records came from Cory.
“I just try to create my own path,” Shane said. “I’m not really thinking about filling my brother’s shoes or anything. I’m just doing my own thing. He even said that to me before I came here. Just like, don’t listen to anyone. Just do your own thing. Actually he said, ‘You’ll crush my records.’ He gave me a challenge to beat his records.”
“If there’s one person who I would want to break them, I hope it would be him,” Cory said.
The two worked out together over the summer and Cory offered advice, telling Shane to work on putting on weight while encouraging him to develop into a grittier player on the ice.
But Cory gushes in the way only an older brother can, with a bit of chirping thrown in for good measure.
“I made sure he put on a little weight. He’s taller than me and I’m a little jealous of that,” said the 5-foot-8 Cory of the 5-11 Shane. “He can use his size to his advantage and be a powerful forward. He’s a lot smarter than I was. He thinks the game really well. He knows how to make plays in certain situations where a lot of players can’t. He’s really smart. I have him in speed but he has me in smarts.”
Shane was bound to develop some hockey IQ. He spent most of his childhood being dragged from rink to rink. The youngest of four, he watched everyone play, including his oldest brother, Kelin, and his sister, Jaclyn. But he learned most from watching Cory.
“He was definitely the hardest working out of all of us. He always had the drive,” Shane said. “He’d be out in the street eight hours a day playing road hockey. … Even with school as well, he was always the one studying. I’d look at my oldest brother and sister and go, ‘Why is Cory the only one doing work?’ Throughout high school and stuff. He always seemed to find something to do. He was never bored that’s for sure.”
Shane was 13 when Cory started at Canisius and the youngest Conacher spent his fair share of time driving with his family from Burlington, Ont., to Buffalo to watch Cory’s games. Not only did he grow up observing Cory’s work ethic, he also saw how Cory flourished under the coaching at Canisius. When Shane committed early to Canisius it wasn’t just to follow in his brother’s footsteps but to be part of something he grew to love and respect.
“Just seeing the opportunity they gave Cory and seeing where the program’s going, I wanted to come here,” Shane said. “Dave Smith is an unbelievable coach. You can see when he came in where the program was and where it is now. I knew it was going to be something special when I came here so I just knew it was the right place for me.”
Part of that right-place formula for the Conachers centered on Smith, now in his ninth season. And for Smith, the ability to approach coaching both Cory and Shane is influenced by what he has experienced as a parent himself.
“Much like my own two children, you don’t want them to be the same person,” said Smith, who has two daughters, Ellis and Kylie. “It’s something we’ve talked about. Shane is Shane and let’s let him be Shane. They’re different people and different hockey players. We just need to be aware that we’re not pushing Cory onto Shane. It’s easier for me that I have two kids and can understand how they’re different.”
While the Conachers are a hockey family, they also value the individuality of their children.
“There never really was any sibling rivalry,” Dave Conacher said. “My wife and I went out of our way to make sure the kids had their own identity. If they didn’t want to do something, we were not going to force them. They’re all very close and Shane always looked up to Cory.”
And while Shane gets advice from Cory about hockey, school and life, there’s a balance that comes with being the older brother.
“You want to make sure he’s on the right page … but at the same time it’s his life, and he’s got to be able to learn and do things on his own,” Cory said. “He wants to be an NHL player and every once in a while, I remind him to focus on the goal and the next four years of college.”