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Oh, brother: Another Conacher nears milestone for the Griffs

It’s easy to tell when Shane Conacher has confidence rolling through his game. That’s when he demands the puck from his teammates, with loud and decisive hoots, hollers and stick taps.

The junior is an unselfish offensive player who loves to pass – sometimes too much. But his playmaking abilities combined with that confidence have Conacher sitting at 99 career points as Canisius hosts Sacred Heart on Friday and Saturday in HarborCenter.

He is poised to become only the second player in Griffs Division I history to reach 100 points as a junior.

The other? His older brother, Cory.

The comparisons between Cory and Shane have been ongoing, well, most of their hockey-playing lives. The ante was upped when Shane arrived at Canisius, two years after Cory finished his four-year career in Buffalo. The older Conacher set program scoring records and put Canisius hockey on the map. Shane gets questions about Cory, now playing with SC Bern in Switzerland after 141 NHL games, and occasionally hears comments from opposing players. Through it all, Shane shrugs it off, paying attention to it only when it creates an opportunity to chirp his older brother.

“I send him Snapchats once in a while of his face,” Shane said as the Canisius locker room at HarborCenter has plenty of photos of Cory on its walls. “It’s cool to be in a category with him even though he’s my brother.”

“Shane has carved out his own niche here and I think he’s proud of his big brother the way any younger brother is, and I think that’s how he’s handled it,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “He’s not Cory. He’s a totally different player. He’s a different person. I think it’s easy because he’s just been himself.”

Shane is ahead of Cory’s scoring pace. Through Feb. 18 of their junior seasons, Shane has 99 points (35 goals, 64 assists) while Cory had 97 points (39 goals, 58 assists). Shane leads Canisius this season with 18 goals and 21 assists. Those 39 points are tied for ninth nationally while his five game-winning goals are tied for fourth in the country. He’s on the initial ballot for this year’s Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the best college hockey player in the country.

He first gives credit to his linemates, most notably senior Ralph Cuddemi, with whom he’s played the majority of his collegiate games.

“He’s just on another level,” Cuddemi said of Conacher. “I’m sure there are guys on every coaching staff, every team questioning how they missed him or what to do to stop him. He’s just one of the most dynamic players in the league. And to have 99 points as a junior, I’m really proud of him like a brother. I know he’s going to continue to succeed.”

Conacher is dynamic – a quality that earned him a college hockey roster spot in the first place. But to keep that spot he’s continued to learn and grow his game, with the biggest gains seen in how he controls pace of play and the confidence he has in his shot.

“I think right now what he’s doing better than he’s done at any point in his career is he’s able to push the pace when it needs to be pushed and slow it down when it needs to be slowed down,” Smith said. “He’s got a better feel for the game. He’s controlling the tempo of the game, which is harder for a forward to do, but he’s able to do that.”

Conacher described himself as a “pass-first guy” who continues to work on shooting the puck more. But he frames shooting as a potentially unselfish move since, he points out, traffic in front of the net can create a rebound which in turn can mean a goal for someone else. That all stems from playing with confidence.

“Confidence is huge in hockey,” Conacher said. “When you’re playing with confidence it’s so important to have the puck on your stick. You want the puck more.”

Demanding the puck is also a skill − a role he said he grew into after his freshman year, when he was a bit hesitant to demand the puck with other top-line guys scoring for the Griffs. That experience has allowed him to encourage other freshmen to be vocal with confidence, including new linemate Dylan McLaughlin.

“I tell Dyl, because he always wants the puck, that’s good,” Conacher said. “It’s important to demand the puck if you want the puck. I think just demanding the puck comes with confidence and it’s huge to see the freshmen building their confidence.”

Of course building your confidence helps when you have Conacher’s lead to follow.

“It seems like he does everything well,” McLaughlin said. “He sees the ice. He’s a good playmaker and he knows how to put the puck in the net. When you play with him you want to play your best. He just has that mentality about him and it makes other people better.”