By Mike Harrington
There were big plans for Cory Conacher's return to Buffalo April 14 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The former Canisius College star's parents had a suite and coach Dave Smith and the Griffs' first NCAA Tournament team were going to be honored by the Sabres.
Scratch all that. Conacher is in town tonight -- with the Ottawa Senators -- and a lot of the pomp and circumstance and buildup to his big return to his college home will be gone. That said, it's still a huge night for Conacher because it's his debut for his new team after getting traded to Ottawa on Deadline Day for goaltender Ben Bishop.
"It's always tough to leave the place you started and Tampa did a lot of good things for me. I have to give them a lot of credit for the scucess I've had so far this year," Conacher said. "At the same time Ottawa is a team on the rise and they've been finding ways to win with all the injuries they've had this year.
"They have a lot of young guys and it will be a fun experience for me to play on a Canadian team. To be close to home [Burlington, Ont.] is nice as well. Tonight is going to mean a lot to me and my family and hopefully we get the win."
Conacher said his parents and some other friends and family will be on hand tonight. Many of his Canisius friends, however, won't be because they're on spring break. And coach Dave Smith will be absent too because he's in San Jose with his daughter at a youth tournament.
"He gave me his immediate impact on the trade," Conacher said. "He took me back to the day he got traded [in the International Hockey League] and just how to handle things. Find the positives out of it. He's excited for me and wishes he could be here. He's a guy I can talk to about anything. I texted him a lot this season."
Sens coach Paul MacLean has Conacher on an all-rookie line with Mika Zibanajed and Jakob Silfverberg and said he's liked what he saw in practice from Conacher yesterday in Boston.
"He's got a good skill set, quick mind, quick hands," MacLean said. "He's good around the net, good with the puck. He seems to be diligent enough without it so we're looking forward to seeing him play."
Conacher knows Sabres fans, including many of his old Canisius buddies, have no soft spots for the Sens in the wake of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals. But he's hoping they'll let bygones be bygones at least a little.
"They're Buffalo fans but at the odd time they can cheer for the Ottawa team too," Conacher said. "It's nice to have that little bit of support. They can say 'I wouldn't mind if Buffalo wins but you get three goals.' It's going to be a fun night for a lot of people."
Click below to hear Conacher's lengthy session with reporters this afternoon.