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Rocket newcomer Condotta hopes to use power, smarts as ticket to NHL

“He’s an extremely powerful guy down low,” UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin says of Laval forward. “I can’t say enough good things about him.”

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Being one of the best students in his business class might not necessarily translate into Lucas Condotta’s on-ice success, but at least he has a viable option if pro hockey doesn’t work out.

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“I saw guys go to (major junior), have no schooling and basically relying just on hockey,” Condotta said on Tuesday, after participating in his first practice – an optional workout – with the Laval Rocket at Place Bell. “I thought it would be a good idea to develop and get my schooling done, come play and have that to fall back on if things don’t work out.”

At age 24, it’s difficult to predict what Condotta’s future holds after the 6-foot-2, 209-pound forward signed a one-year, entry level contract last Thursday as a free agent with the Canadiens for the 2022-23 season. He then signed a pro tryout deal and reported to the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate when the Rocket returned from a four-game road trip.

Condotta, a native of Georgetown, Ont., Completed his collegiate career at UMass-Lowell on March 24, when the River Hawks lost 3-2 to Denver in the opening bracket of the NCAA tournament. Condotta scored a goal in the loss. In 33 games as a senior, he produced 10 goals and 13 assists. During his four Hockey East seasons, he scored 24 goals and had 52 points in 121 games.

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An aggressive player who likes to finish his checks and make it difficult for the opposition, Condotta was voted the River Hawks’ captain as a senior and was an A student in the Manning School of Business, three courses shy of his degree which, he said , will be completed online. He was named to the Hockey East all-academic team the last three years.

“I guess you have the ability to listen and understand things better, but it doesn’t make you a better player,” Condotta said of his academic exploits. “I think it was good to come in early and be around the guys. It’s very important to get acclimated to the system and coaches.

“You can learn stuff from practicing, but also I’d love to play. Any chance you get to play hockey, that’s why you’re here. It’s what you want to do. Everybody wants to play. Whatever happens, I’ll work my hardest and try to play. But if I don’t, I’m here to learn, get some ice and get familiar. ”

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A smooth skater for his size, Condotta’s a self-professed fitness nut and battering ram on skates. He earned kudos from coaches throughout his conference. Long Island University head coach Brett Riley called him a dominant force, while River Hawks coach Norm Bazin was more effusive with his praise.

“He’s one of the most underrated players in the league,” Bazin told the Lowell Sun. “He’s an extremely powerful guy down low. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s improved every single year he’s been here. He’s someone that catches your attention. ”

While it’s unlikely Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle will want to throw Condotta to the wolves Wednesday (7:30 pm, RDS) when Laval entertains Rochester, it might not be long before the rookie makes his pro debut.

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“I want to see him in practice a couple of times,” Houle said. “He may play (Wednesday); I’m not sure. I probably want him to practice with the team a bit, get acclimated to our system. For sure, he’ll see some playing time in the next 10-12 games.

“I don’t know very much about him yet. To me, he’s a big kid, has a big hand and looks strong. I saw him take some draws. He can play center or wing. For him to get an NHL contract out of college is a good thing and a great opportunity. We’ll try to put him in areas where he can help us and in a spot where he can succeed. ”

While Condotta said joining his new club this late in the season won’t present problems, Houle said there’s a definite lack of chemistry and it will take time to determine where best to fit him in and with what linemates. He said Condotta’s likely to debut on the fourth line.

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“It’s tough to build chemistry when you come (in) like that,” Houle said. “If he can help the team, for sure we’re going to put him in. How do we decide when he’s ready? Watching practice and seeing where he can fit. Where to play him and with whom’s a little tougher.

“He’s a big kid. I’m sure he can really help in the physical part of the game. ”

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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