by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Getting adjusted to college hockey was going to be hard enough for Erik Condra. Getting adjusted to college hockey under Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson was another story.
Condra, a Livonia, Mich., was recruited by the staff of previous Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin. When Poulin was replaced by Jackson before Condra's freshman year, he didn't know what to expect. He didn't even know his credentials — which include two national championships. Forgive him, he was seven years old when Lake Superior State won the second of those two titles.
"The year I committed was the year (Notre Dame) went to their first NCAAs," Condra said. "I was excited the program was turning it around. It's a great school. If you come on campus, you fall in love with the place.
"I had no idea (what to expect from the change). I didn't know where I'd fit. ... I was more nervous than excited. There was a guy that had never seen me play before. I don't know what kind of player he likes."
Condra, coming from the USHL, was not accustomed to the type of conditioning, and regimented discipline that Jackson put in place. And his teammates weren't all that used to it either, having played under a different system.
"Last year was a learning year for us with coach Jackson," Condra said. "He came in and he was rough on us, and he had to show us all the groundwork.
"It was just a complete change, a total 180 from what they had experienced. It was rough on all of us. ... You expect it now. No favorites. If you don't do it, you won't play."
But Condra turned out to be the player Jackson likes — smart, tough, willing to pay the price. Last season, it took a while to see dividends. There were many growing pains. But Condra led the team in points at year's end, and the team had been playing more consistently.
Carry that over to this year, and the Irish are 3-1, and Condra's three-point game in a 7-1 blowout at BC is one of many reasons why.
"It's good when you reap the rewards of it," Condra said. "Sometimes you get frustrated, but now we understand why we did everything. ... I feel a lot stronger out there."
Condra was a seventh-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators last June, drafted as a 20-year old. He got the call at 1 a.m. from the Senators. He believes that if he continues to do the right things, he'll get there somehow, but he knows there's more for him to do.
"I expect to score more and more," Condra said. "The freshmen are little snipers, so I don't know if I have to score. I don't really care. A lot of the goals are in front of the net in college, so you have to be strong in front of the net. I'm battling for those loose pucks."
Like many of his teammates, Condra now believes and understands that, not only is Jackson conditioning his teams to win games in college, but is implementing lessons that could carry over for Condra long into the future.
Condra has been playing with two freshmen, who as much as anything are emblematic of change at Notre Dame. Kevin Deeth and Ryan Thang are skilled, smart, tough and fast, and they help enable Notre Dame to play the system Jackson wants.
"It's exciting to see these freshmen and play with them," Condra said. "They're highly skilled and learning the system quickly.
"There's a few systems at play, and certain times, certain things, against different teams we play different. We send two guys hard. Last year we didn't have the speed, we had to sit back."
And so it will go, getting up at 5 a.m. for workouts twice a week, hitting the weights, disciplining themselves. These players and Jackson, their success now is tied to each other.
"If you can get him away from his demeanor, he has a dry sense of humor," Condra said. "We're playing well, so he'll crack a dry joke here and there.
"He's like your grandpa, an authority figure. We look up to him. We know what he's done. We know his experience so you have to respect him. He teaches us a lot."