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Condra excels in Ottawa

Jack Hefferon | Thursday, February 14, 2013

Even with the fairly recent development of the NHL Winter Classic, very few hockey players get the opportunity to play the high-level outdoor games, matches the participants say are reminiscent of their childhood days on the pond.

No. 12 Notre Dame will have just that opportunity this weekend when they take on No. 3 Miami (Ohio) at Soldier Field, but one of the team’s alumni has already lived out that dream.

Erik Condra, a 2009 Notre Dame graduate, had the chance to compete outside when he played with the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League and had some advice for his alma mater.

“Outdoor games are a lot of fun,” Condra said. “It’s like going back to pond hockey like you’re a little kid, but those guys still have to keep their heads up. I made the mistake of thinking I was back playing shinny on the pond again and got buried. There’s still guys coming for you, and it’s still a regular season game.”

While Condra’s professional career is just beginning, the game with Binghamton is far from the only dream he’s realized.

Condra starred at right wing at Notre Dame, leading the team in scoring during all four of his seasons in South Bend. After leading the Irish to a CCHA championship as captain his senior year, he moved on to Binghamton, the Ottawa Senators’ minor-league affiliate. A former seventh-round pick, Condra quickly made a name for himself in the Senators’ organization. And when he helped lead Binghamton to an AHL title in 2011, Condra finally got the call up to the big club.

“There’s some days when you’re in the minors and you think you have no chance, but I realized that you just need to work hard and get your break, and then make the most of it,” he said. “I was lucky enough to play well when I got called up, and do just that.”

Condra quickly took advantage of his opportunity in Ottawa, where he tallied 11 points in 26 games and became the first Senators rookie in over a decade to register two multi-goal games. 

He credited his ability to excel at a high level to both his experience in an elite Notre Dame program and his time with former NHL and current Irish coach Jeff Jackson.

“Notre Dame was great for me,” Condra said. “It taught me a lot of things, and helped me grow as a person. There’s a big-time spotlight at Notre Dame, and that teaches you a lot of things. Coach Jackson and the rest of the staff did a great job in helping my game and getting me ready for the next level.”

But while the rookie was able to adjust to the pace of the game in Ottawa, he faced more of a shock off the ice. Condra said getting used to Canada’s hockey-crazed culture took a bit longer.

“When I got called up to Ottawa, I went to pregame skate and was nervous there, and then came back to the locker room and there 30 or 40 camera guys waiting at my stall,” he said. “I definitely wasn’t used to that.” 

Condra has begun to establish himself as a reliable player in the world’s premier hockey league, missing just one game last season and contributing 25 points from a mostly defensive role.

However, this year’s NHL lockout, which sent many players packing to play overseas, stole a bit of his momentum. Condra went to Germany, where he played lower-division hockey and travelled Europe during his off time.

Now that the labor strike has been settled, Condra is back on the ice at Scotiabank Place and picking up right where he left off. He’s already tallied four points in the young season and said he hopes to help Ottawa return to the playoffs this year in addition to continuing to establish himself as a two-way forward. 

The Senators have never won a Stanley Cup, but Condra said he hopes he can eventually help deliver Ottawa some history, just as he did in his sophomore season at Notre Dame.

“My freshman year we weren’t that great,” he said. “But my sophomore year we had a great senior class, and we were the first hockey team to light up that No. 1 [on Grace Hall] and won Notre Dame’s first CCHA championship. That was my fondest experience, and something I’ll take with me forever.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at [email protected]