|Senators forward Erik Condra says he has been inspired by the work ethic shown by team veterans such as captain Daniel Alfredsson (Getty Images).
Summer is when the seeds truly get planted for a season of hockey growth.
Especially when you're a young National Hockey League player still trying to make his mark alongside the world's best talent.
And so it will be for Erik Condra, fresh off his first full season with the Ottawa Senators. While the 25-year-old native of Trenton, Mich., was pleased with how the 2011-12 campaign unfolded for him, he knows there is still plenty of room to grow. For Condra, a lot of that work will come in the months ahead leading into training camp in September.
"Getting stronger and working on little skills here and there," Condra said of his plans for summer improvement. "Just a little something every day to help myself improve for next year."
The Senators forward, whose penalty killing skills were much appreciated by the team's coaching staff in the recently-concluded season, doesn't need to look far for motivation in that area. He found plenty of it just by observing how Ottawa's veteran leaders went about their business. Condra credited captain Daniel Alfredsson, along with alternates Chris Phillips and Jason Spezza, with "taking all of us young guys" under their wing.
"They just made us feel like we belonged," said Condra, a seventh-round pick (211th overall) by the Senators in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. "That's the whole part of it. Once you feel comfortable, it's easy to play. You don't worry about things because they set the precedent. They set a great example for everyone.
"It's a grind mentally, the 82 games, and you see you've got to get better every day. You see guys like Alfie working at it every day and it inspires you."
Condra saw duty in 81 of 82 games in 2011-12, totalling eight goals and 25 points. While he was a busier guy the year before — between Ottawa and its American Hockey League affiliate, the Binghtamton Senators, he played in a whopping 104 games — Condra noticed a definite higher level of intensity during their Stanley Cup playoffs against the New York Rangers.
"It was a little bit different," said Condra, a key member of the B-Sens' Calder Cup championship team of a year ago. "It's more intense. The crowds are crazy (in the NHL playoffs) and it's something that you dream about. It was fun, but it was also sad that it ended the way it did (with a first-round loss in seven games). We made a good run with it and it was fun.
"I learned a lot. It was a fun season for us, being underdogs all the time and showing that we can play and we're a good team."
Much as this summer will be an important one for Condra in terms of training, it's hardly the biggest event of his off-season. That comes in June, when he and fiancee Ryan Reynolds celebrate their wedding on the coast of Rhode Island. Then they'll head to Greece for their honeymoon.
"I've never been to Europe before," said Condra. "We're excited about (the whole thing)."