By David Grossman
It’s not often you get to learn from an Olympic athlete, who also played in a National Hockey League all-star game and was a member of the last Toronto Maple Leafs team to win a Stanley Cup.
Meet Brian Conacher.
And yet something other than sports is of greater importance to the Upper Canada College grad, who competed for Canada at the 1964 Olympics in Austria.
“To me, it was always about education first – that was paramount,” says Conacher in a fascinating chat. He’s now retired after an illustrious career that included playing Canada’s national winter sport, hockey management, coaching, arena management and broadcasting.
A former president of the NHL Alumni Association, Conacher identifies life achievements, including five years as a player with three teams – but always returns to academics and the opportunity he received to attend UCC.
“I didn’t start out with the objective of being a professional hockey player,” says Conacher. “At UCC, you are at a school with a responsibility to make the most of your time. I was a good hockey player in my teens, but also a good student. I never sacrificed one for the other.”
It was the 1967-68 season that Conacher remembers so well: the Stanley Cup team he was on and the game, different back then, that featured the winning team playing a league all-star squad. Conacher scored the winner in a semifinal against Chicago and notched the winner in the fifth game of a championship series with Montreal.
“Those goals meant a great deal to me, but also very important was the pursuit of excellence in education and sport,” says Conacher, who is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario. “In my time in the NHL, I was one of a small number of players that also went to university.”
After his playing days ended, Conacher worked at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton, Copps Coliseum in Hamilton and Maple Leaf Gardens.
“I enjoyed other forms of hockey as much as playing,” he says. “What was very rewarding were the 13 years as a hockey coach at UCC, knowing that I was in an environment developing College-bound students, helping young kids develop in the game and reminding them of the importance of a great education.”