Cory Conacher will join Burlington Cougar teammates Cooper Richards and Joe Sullivan at the Central Canada Cup All-Star Challenge. Conacher leads the Cougars in scoring with 23 points in his rookie season.

Cory Conacher will join Burlington Cougar teammates Cooper Richards and Joe Sullivan at the Central Canada Cup All-Star Challenge. Conacher leads the Cougars in scoring with 23 points in his rookie season.

He’s a rookie with ties to Canisius College who has exceeded everyone’s expectations, putting to rest any concerns that his size might hold him back.

In the Conacher family, you have your pick as to who that sentence describes. While Cory Conacher is lighting up the American Hockey League with the Norfolk Admirals, younger brother Shane isn’t doing too bad for himself back at home in Burlington.

One of three Burlington Cougars named to the Ontario Junior Hockey League West team for the Central Canada Cup All-Star Challenge later this month, the 17-year-old will lineup alongside teammates Cooper Richards and Joe Sullivan for the tournament-style showcase between teams from four leagues later this month.

“He’s been a huge surprise,” said Cougars’ coach Pete Richards. “Our hope was he would play on our second powerplay and do his job, but no way did I think half way through the season would he be our leading scorer.”

Through 28 games, Conacher has six goals and a team-best 17 assists. His play has not gone unnoticed. Last week Conacher committed to Canisius for the 2013/14 season, following in the footsteps of his brother who holds or shares 11 school records, including the Golden Griffins career marks for goals and points.

His early success has even surprised the Cougar rookie.

“I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity that Pete has given me,” said the former Burlington Eagle. “It’s come a lot faster, playing a bigger role. I was little nervous at first but it was nice that Pete had confidence in me and I started getting more ice time.”

That time was earned as Conacher alleviated any fears that his 5-foot-10, 160-pound frame would not stand up to the physical demands of junior hockey.

“Last year, you saw he had the offensive skill,” Richards said of Conacher, who had a two-game trial with the Cougars last season. “The knock on him was that he would not be physical enough. There’s been no question about his physical play, though. He’s not a tough guy but he doesn’t shy away from contact either. He forechecks hard and he’s in there taking the body.”

Conacher hopes the three Cougars will remain together as a line for the tournament, which begins Dec. 27 in Smiths Falls. Cooper Richards said the trio work well together because in addition to speed, each of them brings something unique.

“Joey’s the muscle of the line,” Richards said. “Conacher’s the set up guy and if they pass to me, hopefully I’ll score.”

“Cooper probably has the best shot on the team so we need him to keep shooting the puck,” says the Cougars coach, Cooper’s father. “When he shoots, he scores or it turns into a rebound for someone else.”

Richards shares the team lead with 10 goals, having already far surpassed the totals of his rookie season.

It will be the second opportunity for Richards and Sullivan to represent the Cougars. Both were invited to play for the East team in the prospects game as part of the World Jr. A Challenge. Sullivan had an assist in each of the two games, both won by the West Prospects team.

Sullivan split last year between the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and the Peterborough Stars of the OJHL. Released by the Petes, Burlington acquired him in late September.

Since then, his biggest challenge has been staying healthy. Sidelined twice, once with a broken foot, he’s played in just 11 of Burlington’s 23 games since they picked him up.

“He makes good decisions, he moves the puck well and he’s physically strong,” said Richards, who coached Sullivan in minor hockey. “When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best 17 year olds in the league.”

Sullivan had four goals in his previous five games before his latest setback and has nine points since joining the team.

Notes: The Central Canada Cup All-Star Challenge will feature four teams from the OJHL, two from the Central Canada Hockey League and one each from the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League and the Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League. Round robin games will be played Dec. 27-28 with the semifinals and final played Dec. 29.