Published on September 10, 2013
Prince Albert Raiders forward Dakota Conroy separates Regina Pats defenceman Kade Pilton from the puck during second period action of a preseason WHL game last Friday at the Art Hauser Centre.
Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Published on September 10, 2013
Prince Albert Raiders forward Dakota Conroy lifts a puck over the shoulder of Regina Pats goaltender Adam Beukeboom during second period action of a preseason WHL game last Friday at the Art Hauser Centre.
Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Dakota Conroy knows that he made a mistake. Now he’s out to prove to the hockey world that he’s learned his lesson.
The 19-year-old Prince Albert Raiders winger was dealt to the team for a 2014 seventh round pick by the Victoria Royals on Sept. 26, 2012.
“At first it was a bit of a shocker. Now, where I’m at today, I realize why I was gone,” Conroy admits. “I wasn’t in good shape at all and to play in this league and to be successful, you have to be in great shape. I had a pretty decent year last year but at the same time, if I was in better shape it could have been even better. Now this year I’m looking to see what I can do in better shape.”
But why now?
“I feel like I just kind of grew up a little bit,” he admits. “I didn’t go out, I didn’t do very much. I just kind of took it easy this summer and really focused on cutting down some fat. I’m just working on getting my legs going, getting a little quicker. I’m still not a great technical skater but at the same time if I’m just a little bit faster I feel like I’ll have more of an advantage.”
The deal was the second WHL trade he was involved in. On Jan. 10, 2012, he was part of a big deadline deal that saw him head to Victoria from the Brandon Wheat Kings. Jordan Fransoo and a 2012 first rounder also went to Victoria in return for Kevin Sundher, then the Royals leading scorer.
In 67 games with the Wheat Kings and Royals in 2011-12 -- his first full season in the league -- he scored 11 goals and added seven assists.
Then after one game with the Royals last season, he was gone. He quickly broke out after joining the Raiders.
“It was just clicking,” Conroy says. “Early in the year it was just working, working, working and my confidence was at a high. They gave me quite a bit of leeway to be creative and try to make moves and make plays. It was good. It allowed me to try to develop as a top six guy compared to getting pucks deep and getting yelled at for trying to move or something like that, being a younger guy.”
Conroy scored in his Prince Albert debut and promptly went on a four-game point streak, piling up seven goals in his first dozen games.
He loved Prince Albert immediately. He became linemates and close friends with overage winger Anthony Bardaro.
“He was great role model,” Conroy says.
But Conroy was streaky. He scored just once in 13 games in October before scoring six times in nine games in November. After contributing three goals in two games in early December, he went on a 19-game scoring drought. The streak finally ended on Feb. 26 in Moose Jaw against the Warriors.
“Near the end of the year I started gripping the stick,” Conroy says. “It got to 19 games. Jeez, when that went in, it felt great. I scored three in a row after that. I’m a streaky guy, I always have been but I’m trying to eliminate that and get a little more consistent this year.”
He ended up with 21 goals and 35 assists in 68 games but in some ways his season was still considered a bit of a disappointment after the hot start. In the last 33 games of the season, he scored three goals.
As a result, his summer was very different.
“Honestly, I just ate really healthy, that’s my biggest thing,” Conroy says. “Before, I would eat out a lot and this summer I really focused on vegetables and lean meats. I was hitting the gym pretty nice but at the same time I was trying to cut down weight so I wasn’t going too, too heavy in the weights. It feels good.”
His workouts consisted of quite a bit of cardio, but not much skating.
The commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed, Raiders GM Bruno Campese says.
“He’s really worked hard,” Campese says of Conroy, who played at 190 pounds last season. “If you look at him you know that he’s worked out hard. He’s down to 181 pounds so you know that he’s tried to add some definition onto his body and I think he’s done a good job of that. This is a real big year for him.”
The early returns are good on Conroy’s hard work.
Conroy was one of the best players on the ice during the team’s 4-3 preseason win over Regina last Friday. He has scored in both preseason games so far.
During the game on Friday, Conroy skated with German star Leon Draisaitl.
“That’s a treat playing with him. You just have to find open areas and he’ll get you the puck. I realize he loves to have the puck; I just have to find open areas and hopefully bury a couple of pucks this year.”
Conroy, an Edmonton product who wash the 49th overall pick in the 2009 WHL bantam draft by the Wheat Kings, still isn’t completely satisfied but he is obviously noticing the fruits of his labours.
“I could be in a little better shape but compared to last year it’s a big difference,” Conroy says. “I just feel lighter on my feet and I can get going a little quicker. That’s the biggest thing for me that I felt that I needed to work on. If I can beat a guy, I need to be able to get a little separation from him to make a play. Right now I feel pretty good.”
He says he has lofty personal goals this season, which no doubt include scoring a lot of goals. For now, he’s part of a team learning a different offensive system and trying to incorporate several new players into the lineup.
Since new overage goalie Cole Cheveldave is one of them -- “For a team to be successful, you need that backbone of a goalie and he’s perfect for us” -- he knows the Raiders are built to win this season.
But the progress that the personable young man has shown in moving forward is clearly another victory for both the team and himself. He doesn’t hide from old mistakes.
“In Victoria I wasn’t ready for the year. That was my own fault and I accept that.”