Roy Conacher was the younger brother of two of the most celebrated athletes of their time. Charlie Conacher was "the Big Bomber," a strong man with a booming shot who played on the Toronto Maple Leafs' Kid Line in the 1930s. Lionel Conacher was "the Big Train," a legendary all-around star who was named Canada's athlete of the half-century in 1950. Both older Conachers were honored with plaques in the Hockey Hall of Fame soon after the end of their distinguished National Hockey League careers. But Roy, quiet and modest about his talents, may have been the most naturally gifted hockey player in the family.
He began skating earlier than his brothers and was therefore much smoother on the ice. He combined speed with strength and was a resourceful goal scorer. But his career was interrupted by his service in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, preventing him from playing in his prime and perhaps establishing himself as the third Conacher superstar in professional hockey.
Roy and his twin brother, Bert, were born on October 5, 1916, in Toronto, the youngest of 10 Conacher children. In his youth, Roy played hockey for Toronto-area teams, leading the Marlboro juniors to titles across the province at the bantam and midget levels. In 1933-34, he joined the West Toronto Nationals and played for three seasons in the Ontario Hockey Association. In his final year he led the league in scoring and was the star of the Nationals when they won the Memorial Cup in 1935-36.
At the age of 22, he was put on the Beantown roster, playing on the left wing alongside center Bill Cowley, a future Hall of Famer whose style meshed perfectly with the talented Conacher's goal-scoring touch and ability to anticipate plays. Conacher led the league with 26 goals in 47 games in his first season - the first rookie to ever accomplish the feat, a record that wasn't broken until Teemu Selanne came along more than 50 years later. The Bruins made a fabulous run through the playoffs, with Conacher scoring six times, including the goal that won Boston the Stanley Cup in the finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1939. Conacher finished second to teammate Frank Brimsek in Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year honors.
In his first four seasons, Conacher was among the league's top 10 scorers each year. He barely made it in 1939-40 after he broke his wrist and missed 16 games. The next season he paced Cowley to the scoring championship and scored 24 goals himself. Except for his last year with the team (1941-42), the Bruins finished first in the regular season each year he played. At one point Boston had a streak of 23 undefeated games, including 15 road games without a loss. The Bruins had little trouble with Detroit in the finals, sweeping the Red Wings to earn Conacher his second Stanley Cup win.
Conacher's promising career was put on hold when he volunteered for the RCAF and was stationed in western Canada and abroad during the war. He was given an honorable discharge following the war, but when he returned home, his boss with the Bruins, Art Ross, was doubtful he could regain his scoring touch after so long an absence from competitive hockey. Roy played only four games with Boston before Ross traded him to Detroit at the beginning of the 1946-47 season.
Conacher, with all that natural talent easing his transition from his military break, led the Red Wings in scoring in his first season with the team with 30 goals and 54 points, good for seventh in the league. In one game, he helped linemate Billy Taylor set the assists record when he scored three goals in the opening period and another in the second, all of them assisted by Taylor, who finished the game with seven assists.
Conacher's stay in Detroit was cut short by an argument with GM Jack Adams about his pay for the upcoming season. Conacher was at first traded to the New York Rangers, but he refused to report and announced his retirement. Two weeks later the trade was voided and he was signed instead by the Chicago Black Hawks. Midway through his first season he was joined in Chicago by his brother Charlie, who was named the team's coach. Charlie placed Roy on a line with Bill Mosienko and Doug Bentley, replacing the departed Snuffy Smith, who had set scoring records with the talented playmakers. Conacher responded with the best season of his career in 1948-49, winning the Art Ross trophy - ironic given that it was Ross who had doubted him a few seasons before - as the NHL's leading points getter with 68. He was placed on the league's First All-Star Team and played in the All-Star Game, significant accomplishments in the postwar era, when the league was once again a stomping ground only for hockey's best.
The Black Hawks were a weak team and Charlie was eventually let go. Roy retired three or four times himself, and though he led the team in scoring several more times, he finally retired for good from the game in 1952, just 12 games into the 1952-53 season.