Like many local youth, Liam Conrad plays hockey in Moncton in order to develop his skills at a higher level. PHOTO SUBMITTED
A fair number of young men from this community have chosen to follow a more challenging path in developing their hockey playing skills by travelling to Moncton to become members of AAA teams that compete in heavy schedules and travel widely.
Liam Conrad, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Tantramar Regional High School, has opted for this challenge for the past three seasons and says it is the only way to go if a person has a serious interest in the game and of improving to the point of successfully moving to the next level.
During his Grade 9 season Liam played with the Moncton AAA bantams and managed to play several times with the Titans as an affiliated player. He recalls the Titans had a strong unit at that time and his contribution may have been limited. The following season he stepped up to the powerful Moncton AAA Midget Flyers and helped them in some small way to their second consecutive provincial championship.
This past season proved to be a “whole new ballgame” for Conrad as he found his scoring touch, finishing fourth in the league and second on his team. In 35 regular season games the Sackville sharpshooter tallied 26 goals and 20 assists for 46 points for an average of about 1.3 points a game.
He continued the hot hand in the playoffs, scoring at least a point a game, but the Flyers could not quite get over the top for a three-peat. Leading five points to three in a race to reach eight points first the Saint John Vitos stormed back to win, tie and win in double overtime to take the title to the Port City.
“It was very disappointing,” says Liam, “especially losing the final game in double overtime.”
He says injuries to a couple of leading Flyers meant the coach was rolling two lines most of the time and this resulted in some simply running out of gas.
During the year he was far from alone in making the trips ups the road. Travelling with him and sharing rides were Kyle Ward, Colby Ward and goalie Julian Galloway. As it turned out he and Kyle Ward were line mates and he has only good things to say about the young man who made the Atlantic under-17 team.
“Kyle is an outstanding skater and tough attacker who works the corners well and made many of the plays where I was able to find the back of the net.”
So what happens next in the evolving hockey career of the son of Rosemary and Darren Conrad?
“I would love to get chosen in the Q League draft,” he quickly replies, “but it would also be nice to play in the Maritime Junior A League. But I still have a year of eligibility for midget and may go that route.”
Liam says he, like most young hockey players, has dreams sometimes of making it all the way to the NHL. But he feels he will end up doing a kinesiology program at university, as he would love to stay close to athletics. Perhaps even a contract to play in Europe on a short-term basis might be in his future.
At 5’10” and 166 pounds, Liam was asked what his main asset is on the ice. Just as Ross Yates told your columnist many years ago, Liam said it was “awareness” – that gift of knowing where every player is on the ice at any moment. Yates, currently head coach of the Saint John Seadogs, finished a brilliant career at Mount Allison and went on to break a long standing American Hockey League record of 125 points in a season. He subsequently played with the Hartford Whalers and spent many seasons playing and coaching in Europe.
Liam, a left shot, plays either wing with equal deftness and recently Charlie Bourgeois – the well known Monctonian who spent eight years in the NHL – described Conrad as “an up and comer.” He said he believes the Sackville product could have a successful future if he decides to pursue his dreams.
“That’s certainly a big compliment coming from somebody with his experience,” says Liam, “and I certainly appreciate the recognition.”
Only five Flyers will be unable to play with the team next year so officials will be looking to the present AAA bantam system to provide reinforcements. Conrad said Sackville’s Ethan Crossman is an outstanding talent and should easily make the jump to join his colleagues from here at the next level.
So Liam Conrad seems to have plenty of options. Carrying an 85 average in school, a well above average talent on the ice and the total support of his family it only remains to see how far he can progress in this tough game where only a tiny percentage make it to “the show.” But, fortunately, he has many directions he might take and he realizes the bottom line is – he must ultimately get a good education regardless of what else may face him.