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Condra eager to make most of first Sens opportunity

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Erik Condra saw some pre-season duty for the Senators. But tonight will be the real deal, when the 24-year-old forward makes his NHL debut against the Islanders (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images).

Erik Condra hasn't likely ever performed in front a hockey crowd quite like this.

And we're not merely talking about the 18,000-plus that'll be on hand for his National Hockey League debut at Scotiabank Place tonight against the New York Islanders (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

The 24-year-old from Livonia, Mich., found himself surrounded by the kind of media crowd that more normally clamours for position in front of the two guys he's now sitting between in the Senators dressing room, defencemen Chris Phillips and Erik Karlsson. But for a day, at least, this is Condra's new world and he's savouring every second of it.

"It's unbelievable. It's what you dream of when you're a little kid," said Condra, who has been summoned from the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League. "There are points in your life when you don't think it can come about, but you just keep plugging along. Once it's finally here, it's exciting and words can't describe it."

Condra got the news over lunch yesterday and quickly phoned his parents, Paul and Sonja, who immediately made plans to be on hand for their son's big moment. They're en route to Ottawa along with Condra's fiancée, Ryan Reynolds, and 11-year-old brother Sean.

It's been a long road to this day for Condra, a seventh-round selection (211th overall) by the Senators in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he's played four years of college hockey at Notre Dame and is now in his second season with the B-Sens, during which he's made major strides. He ranks 11th in AHL scoring (17-29-46) and owns an impressive plus-minus number (+19) that rates among the league's top 10.

"He’s had a very good season down there," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said following the team's pre-game skate earlier today. "I thought when he played in a couple of exhibition games for us, he showed a level of intelligence that all the coaches liked. He played well. He’s gone down there (to Binghamton) and done everything you could ask of him.

"(Condra) has contributed offensively, he’s been a leader in the dressing room, he’s done a good job on the penalty kill and a good job on the defensive end. Speaking to everyone down there, he’s been a real good player in all areas."

It's that all-around game that Condra hopes to put on display tonight.

"It's unbelievable. It's what you dream of when you're a little kid. There are points in your life when you don't think it can come about, but you just keep plugging along. Once it's finally here, it's exciting and words can't describe it." - Eric Condra
"Just (show) that I can play at this level," he said when asked about his goals against the Isles. "I think I'm a smart player. I'm not overly skilled at any one thing, but I score enough to get around and I know the game. Hopefully, (the Senators) see that."

Condra is the eighth B-Sens player to get the call to the big club this season, with forwards Zack Smith and Bobby Butler, along with goaltender Robin Lehner, all still here. For a team that stands 15th in the Eastern Conference and has posted a 2-12-3 record to date in 2011, the injection of another dose of youthful enthusiasm is always welcome.

"The excitement those players have ... it spreads through the locker-room," said Ryan Shannon, who'll start tonight's game on a line with Condra and Zack Smith. "You can see (Condra) is excited and probably a little nervous. He'll kind of think that he's prepared and after that first shift, he'll be a little overwhelmed. But hopefully, as the game goes along, he'll settle down.

"(We have to) just let him enjoy it."

After he gets past the expected early jitters, Condra plans to do just that.

"Once you get in the locker-room (and get) that hockey feel, you get right into it and I don't think it affects you as much," he said. "Hockey is hockey, no matter where you play it ... You just have to get warmed up and be ready. Sometimes, you maybe need to take a hit to get into the game. But little things out there remind you it's just hockey, the same game you've been playing (all your life)."

Around the boards

Brian Elliott, who saw a personal 13-game losing streak end with Saturday's 5-3 triumph over the Oilers in Edmonton, gets a second straight start in goal tonight against the Isles ... Defenceman Matt Carkner (lower body) didn't take the pre-game skate and won't dress tonight ... Centre Jason Spezza needs one point to hit the 500 milestone for his career. He played in his 500th career NHL game on Saturday ... Another 500 marker in sight: defenceman Sergei Gonchar is two assists shy of that plateau ... The Senators are 42-16-11-1 all-time against the Islanders and have won two of three meetings so far this season ... The Boston Bruins visit Scotiabank Place on Friday night (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).

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