|With an eye toward making a strong impression at Senators training camp, Stephane Da Costa has spent the summer working out in Ottawa under the watchful eye of the team's staff (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
For Stephane Da Costa, it has been a summer unlike no other.
The 22-year-old Ottawa Senators prospect is hundreds of kilometres away from the Paris home he hasn't seen in nearly two months. But he is a young man with a purpose as he works toward his first full-fledged National Hockey League training camp.
"It's really hard every day," Da Costa said in reference to the workout regimen he follows in the team's gym at Scotiabank Place. "(Senators conditioning coach) Chris Schwarz is taking care of us. It's been really good for me ... I need to gain a little bit of weight and get a little more powerful in my legs."
Da Costa arrived in Ottawa on June 20 after spending three weeks at home with his family in France. The capital has been his home ever since, with his first Senators development camp kicking off the summer. He admits it hasn't been easy being away from his homeland at this time of the year.
"I always miss my family," he said. "But I've got to do what I've got to do."
It has been a whirlwind, to be sure, since Da Costa decided to forego his final two years of eligibility at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., where he recorded 90 points over the course of his freshman and sophomore seasons and led the school to its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in the latter year. By then, a reported 20 NHL teams coveted his services.
The Senators eventually won the Da Costa sweepstakes, inking him to a two-year deal on March 31. Just two nights later, he was on the ice at Scotiabank Place, making his NHL debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs with his parents, Thierry and Yolande, and brother Gabriel watching proudly from the stands. He saw action in four games for the Senators before the season ended.
"I was pretty nervous the first two games, but it turned out to be pretty good," he said about his NHL debut. "I think I did decent and it was a great experience, for sure. (The NHL) is all about speed. The guys are all strong and they're all smart. Overall, it's a very good level, the best level in the world."
Looking back now, Da Costa has no doubts that leaving school was the right move for him.
"I don't have any regrets, that's for sure," he said. "I think I picked the right team. I'll be liking the organization for a long time, I hope."
All the more reason for Da Costa to put in the time and the work to get himself ready for Senators training camp in mid-September. After his Senators stint ended, the 5-11, 180-pound forward headed off to Slovakia for the 2011 IIHF World Hockey Championship, where he represented France for a third time. Then, after his brief time at home, it was off to Ottawa.
"It's a good experience," he said of the world championship. "When I was in college, it was a great experience. I played against NHL guys and a bunch of really good players. It's always a good experience and it's always good to play for your country.
"(Now) I've just got to be ready for camp and prove myself. I just have to stick with my game and try to be 100 per cent and do the best I can."
Da Costa also continues to learn more about the passion for hockey in Canada — and in Ottawa in particular. Not that he was totally unaware of it from the get go. His first NHL game happened to be a Hockey Night in Canada affair against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and many of his ex-teammates at Merrimack knew how big a deal that was.
"We had about 12 or 13 guys on our team from Canada and they always told me that (hockey in) Canada was unbelievable," he said.
He's also seen plenty of evidence of it during a pair of guest stints at the Ottawa Senators Hockey Camps at the Bell Sensplex. Da Costa was routinely asked for autographs and had one young girl burst into tears of joy in front of him when he obliged. And the Senators prospect says he's always happy to provide such happy moments.
"When I was a kid, I wanted those signatures," he said. "In France, there's not so much (opportunity) for that, so I didn't get any. I really enjoy doing that and I really enjoy making kids happy."