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Reconnecting with Former Ottawa Senator Erik Condra

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 15: Erik Condra #22 of the Ottawa Senators during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on October 15, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The Senators defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

When the Ottawa Senators selected Erik Condra in the 2006 Draft, he was undoubtedly a prospect they liked a lot. But as a seventh-round pick, chosen 211th overall, making the NHL 

was still a longshot. 

Not only did Condra defy the odds, he went on to play almost 400 games in the league – most of them with Ottawa – where he spent six seasons in the organization. 

Today, Condra is a player development coach with the rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks. 

And he’s enjoying family life with three great kids.

“I live outside Minneapolis, which is a great place to live and has a huge hockey community,” Condra said. “So many ex-hockey players live in this area. The family is doing great. We have a 9-year-old boy playing hockey and soccer, a 7-year-old daughter doing gymnastics, cheer, and piano, and a 5-year-old boy doing every sport under the sun. Besides work and the travel that goes with that, we’re a full-time taxi service to get the kids to their activities and events!

The Blackhawks job came along in 2020, not long after COVID-19 struck the final nail in his playing career.

“It was a weird ending having COVID end your career for you,” Condra said. “We finished a game and heard the NBA was shutting down. Little did I know that would be the last game I would ever play. It’s not easy to give up something you love so much, but our family had moved around a ton, and my body was getting worn down.

“To have some stability and live in one place has been great for the family. I also had a pretty quick transition into the Player Development role, which kept me in the game.”

FACES: Can you describe your new role with the ‘Hawks? How are you enjoying it?

Erik Condra: I work with the draft picks and minor-league players for the Blackhawks. Our job is to help in any way possible to get our drafted players to play in the NHL. We visit them and see them in person quite a bit, along with our AHL team in Rockford, a couple of hours west of Chicago. 

It’s been fun to see guys that you’ve worked with make it to the NHL.

Have you spent much time with ‘Hawks rookie Connor Bedard? What are your impressions of him as a person and as a player?

I have not spent a ton of time with Connor, but from the time at our development camp, you can tell he is a pro who loves the game of hockey. His dedication and work ethic is as high as I have ever seen. Also, he already holds himself like a 10-year pro with a lot of maturity and confidence.

Let’s look back at your playing career. Who or what got you hooked on hockey as a kid?

My uncle, Kirt Bjork (father of Anders Bjork), played hockey at Notre Dame and went overseas to play for a few years. Hockey was a big part of my mom’s side of the family. Growing up in the Detroit area when the Wings were dominant and winning all those Cups had a big part in my falling in love with the game.

What are a couple of your best memories of playing at Notre Dame for four years?

Most of my best friends to this day are from Notre Dame. It’s such a unique place. Away from hockey, there was nothing better than a football Saturday at Notre Dame. The atmosphere on campus is electric. When one of the sports teams is ranked #1 in the nation, Notre Dame lights up a big #1 sign on one of the buildings on campus. My sophomore year was the first time that they did that for the hockey team, which was a pretty special moment. I’ll never forget winning the two CCHA championships at the Joe Louis Arena, where I grew up watching the Wings.

At what point did you start to believe you had a chance at playing in the NHL?

This is an interesting question for me. I guess I never really thought I was great at hockey. Growing up, I always played with better players than me. Once I got to juniors and then college, I gained confidence in my own game, but whenever I would watch the NHL, I would just always assume those players were much better than I was. I was a seventh-round draft pick. After being drafted, I got a little hope but still didn’t really believe it. 

Even during my time in Binghamton, there were many times when I didn’t think I would ever make it up. In my second year there, the Sens were having a tough year and trading away much of the team. At that point, I was hoping I would get my shot.

So when did it happen for you? Tell us about the day you called up?

Ryan Keller was actually supposed to get called up after a game that season, but he tweaked his knee. So no one got called up and we came home. The next day, a few of us were at lunch, knowing they had to call someone up. It was Valentine’s day, and we were all waiting to see whose phone would ring. My phone rang, and it was my turn! I got a call that there was going to be a limo to take me up to Ottawa in an hour and to hurry to the rink to catch it. I called my parents and my future wife to make sure they were there. Ottawa flew my family in the next day. 

We played the Islanders, and there was no way I was getting a pre game nap that day. I was way too jazzed up! I think the most nervous I was the whole day was during warmups. The best thing I did during the game was pass it to Erik Karlsson and watch him do his thing to help me get my first point in the NHL that night.

You helped Binghamton win the 2011 Calder Cup with future Ottawa players like Zack Smith, Robin Lehner, Mike Hoffman, and others. What was that experience like?

That was an incredible year! I got to play my first NHL game. We had a great group of guys and a pretty deep team. Six or seven of us were up in Ottawa for the last twenty-some games of the season, so the guys down in Bingo were grinding to even make the playoffs. After we all got sent down for the playoffs (Smitty, Butler, Greening, myself, and a few others), we didn’t play great. It’s hard sometimes to come from the NHL back to the AHL. 

We were on the brink of elimination in the first round. Down 3-1 in the series, we switched goalies and put Lehner in. We won the next three games in OT and proceeded to roll through the playoffs to bring a championship to Bingo. The city loved it and embraced us with a parade and party in the city that lasted for a few days!

Your lone playoff series win in Ottawa was that wild series over Montreal in 2013 that included the brawl. You guys won 6-1 and seemed to win every fight that night. How crazy was that game, and what do you remember most about it?

That was a crazy series. I remember Eric Gryba stepped up in Montreal and crushed Lars Eller. After that, the whole series was a bloodbath. Name-calling, number-calling, it was intense. I’m glad we had guys like Chris Neil during those series! After winning, I remember any restaurant we went to, no one would let us pay for anything. Everyone in Ottawa loved it and showed their support for us.

What would you say is your NHL playing career highlight?

A few stand out. My first game. My first playoff series where I was in the starting lineup in MSG. Beating Montreal in that 2013 playoff series, and making it to the ECF with Tampa in 2015-2016.

Generally speaking, how did you enjoy your time in Ottawa? Is there anything about the city you miss?

I loved Ottawa. I feel like there was a core group of young guys (Zack Smith, Kyle Turris, Nick Foligno, Erik Karlsson, Colin Greening, Bobby Butler, Mark Borowiecki, Mark Stone) that kind of grew up there together. I live in the Minneapolis area now, and it reminds me of Ottawa a lot. It can get super cold, but no one cares, and we’re always active doing something outside. I feel like Ottawa had a great restaurant scene. We lived in Westboro for a couple of years, and we loved it there. I’m excited to bring my family back there at some point as the kids get older!

By Steve Warne

UNIONDALE, NY – DECEMBER 02: Erik Condra #22 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on December 2, 2014 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Senators 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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