|Erik Condra is working hard toward making his professional hockey debut with the Senators organization this season (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
won't soon forget the college hockey experience at the University of Notre dame, the school that defined his life over the last four years.
But the 5-foot-11 forward is eager to get started on a professional career in the game. His enthusiasm abou it is clear from the moment Condra starts speaking about his first Ottawa Senators rookie camp.
"I'm really excited. A little nervous," said the 23-year-old native of Taylor, Mich. "I haven't experienced this before but I'm excited to see what it's like and how I can fare.
"I think I'll probably start in Binghamton (with the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate) and try to do my best there and see what happens from there. You never know. I'll just play my best game and see if they like it or not."
Condra was the third-last player (seventh round, 211th overall) picked in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. But over the course of four years of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hockey at the University of Notre Dame, he grew into a player that the Senators were happy to sign to an entry level contract back on July 1.
"He was a captain at Notre Dame last year. He's a good player," said Randy Lee, the Senators' director of hockey administration and player development. "He's got leadership (ability) and he's so bright on the ice. He just has to get up to NHL speed, which he's worked on.
"(At the end of the 2007-08 season), he had a knee injury, so that hampered him a bit. But he's come a long way. He was a top player at Notre Dame."
Condra led the Irish in scoring in each of his four years, totalling 48 goals among his 158 points in 159 games. At a school best known for its high-profile football program, he was a catalyst for a hockey boom that produced the best overall record (90-28-10) among NCAA Division I teams over the last three seasons.
Notre Dame held the No. 1 ranking in NCAA hockey for seven weeks during 2008-09 and won both the regular-season and playoff titles in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) before suffering a stunning upset loss at the hands of tiny Bemidji State in the Western Regional semi-finals.
"That's how it goes in college hockey," said Condra. "It's a one-game shot."
"He's got leadership (ability) and he's so bright on the ice. He just has to get up to NHL speed, which he's worked on. (At the end of the 2007-08 season), he had a knee injury, so that hampered him a bit. But he's come a long way. He was a top player at Notre Dame." - Randy Lee
But that didn't diminish the big picture.
"Hockey's coming up and it's starting to build its own tradition there," said Condra. "Over the past four years, we built something pretty special."
Condra also did a lot to build his own future. A second-team acadamic All-America, he graduated with a 3.55 grade-point average and degrees in psychology and pre-professional studies (pre-med), which Condra called "priceless."
On the ice, he honed the leadership skills that are so admired by the Senators.
"I've learned a lot from the leaders I had growing up," said Condra. "I have that ability to take charge and just do the right things. I like to get enthused and get people excited about playing the game. When you're excited about playing, you play your best and that's the way I look at it."
Mind you, being that he's someone who grew up in the Detroit area, Condra had the ultimate role model when it came to leadership.
"I always looked up to Steve Yzerman," he said of the former Detroit Red Wings captain and Ottawa Sports Hall-of-Famer. "He was your classic captain and an unbelievable player."
Condra and the Senators rookies face off against Boston Bruins prospects on Wednesday at 2 p.m. in the second game of their rookie tournament in Kitchener, Ont., before closing it out Thursday vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs (Rogers TV, 7 p.m.).