Practice had ended more than 20 minutes earlier and the number of players left on the ice at the Bakersfield Ice Sports Center had dwindled to a handful, mostly young guys getting in extra work.
Among the last to step off the ice — but leaving the pucks for the rookies to retrieve — was Condors captain Ryan Hamilton, who will begin his 11th professional season when the Condors open American Hockey League play on Friday in Stockton.
That was no surprise to Condors coach Gerry Fleming.
“He’s our leader,” Fleming said. “He does so many things and he does them well. He’s a leader on the ice, he’s a leader off the ice. He’s a solid citizen. I can’t say enough things about our captain.”
For his part, Hamilton — the oldest player on the team at 32 — says he just does what he needs to do to help the team and be a better player.
“You’re constantly trying to get better, even though I am the oldest guy on the team,” he said. “There’s a lot of my game I want to work on so I can be the best player that I can be so I can help out this team.
“If you can help young guys and help their development it’s a good feeling. I’m really enjoying that role in being here, helping out any way I can but also trying to win games. In saying that, we have a lot of leaders in the dressing room so it’s spread out pretty good.”
Hamilton, a left wing, had 36 points (17 goals and 19 assists) in 49 games last season, which was cut short by a broken thumb which needed surgery to repair.
“It was terrible timing, we were in a playoff push,” Hamilton said. “It’s a bad feeling when you get injured but it’s even worse when you’re not able to help the guys try and get into a playoff spot because you really want to get in the playoffs.
“That was kind of frustrating … I was hungry all summer to get back on the ice and real excited for this season, especially with the additions we’ve made and the returning guys.”
With exception of second-year pro Jesse Puljujarvi, the fourth overall pick by Edmonton in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Condors do not have a lot of blue-chip prospects.
They do, however, appear to have perhaps the best balance of players yet as they head into their third AHL season.
“Edmonton’s doing a great job up there,” Hamilton said. “They have a pretty amazing team. A lot of guys who played for the Condors are now up there full time. That’s what you want to see.
“But in saying that, we’ve added a lot of good depth. Guys that have experience. Experience of winning, experience of playing at this level. Any time you can add guys like that it’s huge. And it’s going to help out our young guys and help with the guys returning.”
The Condors missed the playoffs by a point two seasons ago and by five points last season and Hamilton said making the postseason is a priority.
“We’re expecting big things from this group,” he said.