The Conacher family had some darn good genes. Like his brothers Roy and Charlie, Lionel towered above most others in his era and used his size to its full advantage during his athletic career, as can be inferred by his nickname “the Big Train”. Lionel was an extremely multi-talented man, starring in several sports. Amazingly, many considered hockey to be his weakest pro sport. Born in Toronto in 1901, Conacher spent many of his teen years and early 20s starring in hockey, lacrosse, and football. He was a star player for his Toronto semi-pro team and scored two touchdowns for the Argonauts in the Grey Cup of the CFL in 1921.
In his mid 20s, Conacher finally settled down to start focusing more on his hockey career in the NHL. After playing two seasons for the Pittsburgh Yellowjackets of the USAHA, Conacher joined the NHL by staying in Pittsburgh Pirates in their inaugural season, the 1925-26 season. Conacher captained the Pirates in their first season, but was traded a year later to the New York Americans after a pointless first nine games. Conacher regained his form later on in the season and the rearguard finished second in assists and fourth in points among defensemen to finish the 1926-27 season. Conacher had another great season the following year, finishing tied for first among defensemen in both goals and points in the NHL.
Conacher dealt with the stifling defensive style of the 1928-29 by being more aggressive. He used his 6’2″ frame to bully around the league, piling up 132 PIM, good for 2nd in the NHL. Conacher continued to have decent seasons, but moved into a more defensive defenseman role. He moved on to the Montreal Maroons for the 1930-31 season and saw an offensive revival in his points in the 1931-32 season, when he scored 7 goals and 9 assists for 16 points, the highest totals in four seasons. It seemed that Conacher, now 30 years old, was hitting his offensive peak later than most players. Conacher followed that season up with the best offensive season of his career, scoring 7 goals and adding 21 assists for 28 points, finishing third in both goals and points among defenders.
Conacher was acquired by the Chicago Black Hawks for the 1933-34 season and Conacher had another strong season, scoring 10 goals and adding 13 assists for 23 points, tying him for third among defensemen in points. More significantly, Conacher helped the Black Hawks to their first ever Stanley Cup in 1934 and finished the season at 2nd in Hart Trophy voting, second to only Aurel Joliat. Conacher was also awarded a spot on the First All-Star Team. Conacher, now 33, but clearly still a capable player, returned triumphantly to Montreal to rejoin the Maroons for the 1934-35 season. Conacher’s offense took a bit hit, but he still helped the Maroons win their second Stanley Cup. The Montreal Maroons are to date the last team to win the Cup that is no longer in the NHL.
Any who thought that Conacher would fade away as he aged were in for a surprise in the 1935-36 season, in which he upped his goal total from two to seven and his point total from eight to fourteen. His seven goals were good for third among NHL defensemen. The trend continued in 1936-37, despite his age, as Conacher led the NHL’s defenseman with 19 assists and added 6 goals for a total of 25 points. Conacher again finished second in Hart voting, this time to Babe Siebert. At the age of 35, the Big Train would decide to retire and take his talents to the world of politics, serving as an MP for several years.
When Conacher retired, he finished 2nd all-time in goals, assists, and points to Baldy Northcott, although it’s worth noting that Northcott played many games as a winger, greatly inflating his numbers. As the Maroons would fold one season after Conacher retired, he remains at those positions to this day in the annals of Maroons history. Conacher was voting as the top Male Canadian Athlete of the half-century in 1950 for his combined dominance in hockey, lacrosse, and football and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1994.