By VINCENT FENSORE
The average size of the NHLer is 6’1” and 204 pounds. Yet, Cory Conacher of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who is 5’8” and weighs in at 179 pounds, beat the odds of human survival and competing in the hockey rink. In 1989, the year of Conacher’s birth, his parents were not thinking of the NHL as his future, rather, they were worried about his survival.
On December 14, 1989, in Burlington, Ontario, Cory Conacher was born with a rare condition where his bladder was outside his body. This forced him to undergo a ten hour operation at only five days old, complicating measures for doctors because of his size. They had to reconstruct his pelvis and place his bladder back into his body. His physical condition was so severe that doctors informed Cory’s parents that their son may never walk properly.
As a child, Cory was in and out of hospitals for surgeries until his seventh birthday. A year after his last surgery, Cory faced yet another obstacle; he was diagnosed with type one Diabetes. For the next four years, Cory poked himself with needles daily until he was able to switch to a diabetic pump, which attached to a tube permanently in his body, acting as a weight and constant reminder of his physical battle. Yet, this helped him build the strength to pursue his dream: becoming a hockey star.
Aside from his health struggles holding him back, his size began to pose a threat to his hockey career. At 5’8,” he is classified as a player below the average size. Due to this, he was cut from the top team and forced to play at a lower level at the age of fourteen; although he felt trapped, at 16 years old, he finally made a top tier team.
After this, he played a season of Junior A hockey and tallied 62 points in 48 games, helping him receive a scholarship to a small division one school in Buffalo, Canisius College. At Canisius, Cory broke every scoring record at the school, but still never got any NHL scouts to look at him: both his physical size and the school’s size were too small to attract an audience. However, his Canisius coach called up three NHL scouts for Cory. Although the did not all answer, scout Pat Verbeek, a former NHLer, fell in love with Cory and changed his life. After leaving college in his first full year in the AHL, Cory led his team to a championship and along the way won MVP and Rookie of the Year.
There was something that the “Little Train” had going for him, which was hockey streaming through his blood lines. Conacher had six distant relatives who were in the NHL and three of them where Hall of Famers. One of them was Lionel, “Big Train,” Conacher, which is also where the nickname “Little Train” comes from. This rookie player has received the title for points leader in the NHL; although his path to the NHL had some peaks and valleys, this tough little kid from Burlington, Ontario is well on his way to a Rookie of the Year trophy and a long NHL career.