Friday, April 25, 2008

Lionel Conacher

The man they called "The Big Train" is truly a Canadian sporting legend. Lionel Conacher is arguably "Canada's Greatest Athlete" and is often referred to as "Canada's Jim Thorpe"

He was a charter inductee in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame (1951), and has been inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (1963), the Hockey Hall of Fame (1994), and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.

In football, Conacher played for the Toronto Argonauts (1921-22) and won the Grey Cup in 1921. The previous year, he had won hockey's Memorial Cup as a member of the Toronto Canoe Club Paddlers. Conacher went on to a 12-year career in the NHL (1925-37), mostly with the Montreal Maroons, where he was a second-team all-star defenseman in 1932-33, and played on the Stanley Cup winning team of 1934-35. He first played on a Stanley Cup winner in his one season with the Chicago Blackhawks (1933-34), where Conacher was also a first-team all-star.

As a hockey player, not only was Conacher a solid defenseman, he was also known for his hard hitting and aggressive defense. He was always among the penalty-minutes leaders.

Conacher was a member of the Toronto Maple Leaf baseball team that won the Triple-A championship in 1926. And, in addition to being one of the greatest lacrosse players in the country, he was also an undefeated light-heavyweight boxer (and fought an exhibition bout against Jack Dempsey in 1922).

As an amateur wrestler, Conacher won the Ontario championship in the 125 pound weight class as a 16 year old in 1916. According to The Ring Magazine, he became a pro wrestler in Toronto in 1932, and toured Canada and USA and never lost a match. Lionel even boxed a 4 round exhibition fight with the legendary Jack Dempsey

After retiring from sports, Conacher was elected as a member of the Liberal party to the Ontario legislature in 1937 and to the Canadian House of Commons in 1949. He died in 1954, suffering a heart attack while playing in a softball game.

Conacher was voted Canada's Athlete of the Half Century by the Canadian Press in 1950 and is a top candidate for Canada's athlete of the 20th century when that poll is taken.

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