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Condra brings championship pedigree to Ottawa

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Erik Condra has gone from seventh-round draft choice to a potential mainstay in the Ottawa Senators' lineup this coming season after inking a two-year, one-way contract with the NHL team earlier today (Getty Images).

The legacy of the Binghamton Senators' historic championship run figures to be felt soon enough north of the border.

With the signing of versatile forward Erik Condra to a two-year, one-way contract today, the Ottawa Senators have indicated their clearly hope that winning feeling rubs off in a major way on the big club. And sooner rather than later.

Condra, forward Colin Greening and centre Zack Smith played key roles in the B-Sens' drive to the first Calder Cup title in nearly three decades of American League Hockey in Binghamton, N.Y. All three have inked new one-way contracts in the last month, signalling the Senators see significant roles for each in Ottawa in the season ahead.

That trio, it should be noted, spent most of the final six weeks of the 2010-11 campaign with the parent Senators before returning to Binghamton for the playoffs. It was a valuable experience all the way around.

"There’s a lot of guys — me, (forward Bobby) Butler, Greening and a few other guys — who are in the same boat," said Condra, who's enthused about the "good fit" provided by his new deal. "We showed we could jump up and play at the next level and make an impact, then coming back down, we learned how to win. The grind of the playoffs, the grind of a championship ... it was fun to go down there and win a championship, and I think we learned a lot about winning and the grind of the playoffs.

"We can take that and have the confidence to know we’ve done it before, we can do it again and, hopefully, we can do it at the next level."

Assistant general manager Tim Murray echoed that sentiment, saying the Binghamton title run "teaches them a couple of things."

"It teaches them how to win — and that’s ultimately what we’re about here — and it teaches them how to prepare night after night for a grind," he added. "That’s what the 82-game schedule we have in the National Hockey League is. So I have to think the guys that got that experience down there should be better prepared night after night to play at 100 per cent and just be ready for anything that comes at them. I think that playoff run does that for them."

Condra is one of those draft longshots who panned out big time and continues to pay off in a major way. A seventh-round selection (211th overall) in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, the 24-year-old from Northville, Mich., is a thinking man's forward who contributes to many facets of the game. By the time he reached senior season of NCAA hockey at Notre Dame, he was the Fighting Irish's captain and had grown immensely as a player.

In 26 games in Ottawa last season, Condra picked up six goals and five assists. He recorded 46 points in 55 games with the B-Sens, then added another five goals and 17 points during the Calder Cup playoff run.

"He’s a very smart, intelligent player," said Murray. "He plays well in all three zones. He’s the type of guy who can chip in offensively. He’s a good penalty killer and just has a good understanding of the defensive part of the game. With the new coaching staff (wanting to) play a hard-working game, a puck control type of game, we hope that he fits in perfectly here."

While he admits he once put NHL players "on a pedestal," Condra amazed even himself by making a smooth transition to the world's best hockey league.

"Every time I move up a level, I kind of surprise myself a little bit," he told reporters today in a conference call from Rhode Island, where he's making plans for a 2012 wedding. "I've always worked harder to try to get to the next level. When I got to college, that was great, and when I got drafted, I surprised myself again. Every step I’ve taken, I’ve kind of surprised myself a little bit.

"Until you get here, you don’t really know if you can play at that level. But the comfort I felt in knowing I can play at this level ... I did surprise myself a little bit again."

Butler is now the lone Senators restricted free agent in need of a new contract, but Murray doesn't think that will be an issue that lingers into training camp.

"We’ve just been talking back and forth," he said. "Both sides have said if we can’t come to an agreement, his side and our side are happy with him playing on the qualifying offer — which was a two-way contract — and going from there. But I’m sure will have more talks going forward and, hopefully, we can hammer out something that’s a little different than that."

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