Mass native Mike Condon hoping to steal the show at Winter Classic
(Mike Condon puts his mask on during an episode of Epix’s Road to the Winter Classic)
Back when Montreal Canadiens goalie and Massachusetts native Mike Condon was trying to figure out where he would play high school hockey, he applied to St. Sebastian’s in Needham, MA. Condon was living in Needham at the time and the Arrows were a perennial hockey powerhouse in the Independent School League, but Condon ended up playing for Belmont Hill in Belmont, MA after St. Sebastian’s showed no interest in the local goalie.
“I had applied to this school, St. Sebastian’s in Needham (MA), and at that time that’s where I lived so it was convenient and they had a great hockey team,” Condon told Bruinsdaily.com recently. “But I never heard back from them. Not a letter, call, anything and after a while I had other schools interested in me and Belmont Hill was one of those. Well Belmont Hill as you may know, is St. Sebastian’s arch-rival too and I made a promise to myself that throughout my high school career, I would never lose a game to St. Seb’s in any sport.”
That determination helped him overcome many obstacles en route to a shot in the NHL. After four years at Princeton, Condon played in the ECHL, AHL, back to the ECHL and then back to the AHL with the Habs’ former minor league affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, before getting his shot in the show this season.
His high school coach, Ken Martin always knew he had it in him. “It was determination and he was such a hard worker,” the longtime Belmont Hill coach said. “I don’t know if he said anything to you about his teammates but they said a lot about him. They always felt pretty confident with Mike in the net. They always loved playing with in front of him.”
Condon started the season as the back-up for reigning Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price, but when Price went down with an injury early on Condon was thrown into the spotlight. Condon roared off to a 6-0-1 start before Price returned for what turned out to be a brief stint. Condon was back between the pipes again, but this time he struggled. He now enters the Winter Classic tilt with the Boston Bruins at 10-9-3 with a 2.48 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage.
Martin isn’t surprised that Condon has struggled over the last month along with his team. The Canadiens stumble into the Winter Classic with a record of 3-12-0 over the last month. Martin isn’t worried for his former goalie and expects bumps in the road for any NHL rookie.
“I think so many things have happened so quickly for Mike, that he’s still in the learning process,” Martin pointed out. “Everyone thinks ‘this is great’ and that, but he travels a lot now across the country — more than ever before — and people think nothing of that. But really you’re playing a game where you have different time zones and you’re sleeping differently and after a while, you probably don’t even know what city you’re in or even what team you’re playing on any given night. It’s been a whirlwind for him for sure.”
“I think he can handle it,” Martin said of Condon. “Everything was great and then they hit the tough spot. But the fact that he’s bounced back is like I said before part of the progression of becoming a pro. It’s about becoming more comfortable with being in that atmosphere in Montreal and being in the NHL. Mike has the strength to do that and I believe he will.”
Condon will do his best to tap into that inner strength Friday in what is potentially a battle for first place in the Atlantic Division. Being a Mass native, he is also going to take in the environment and enjoy the fact that he is playing in the home of his beloved Patriots.
FOXBOROUGH, 12/31/15 — Canadiens goaltender Mike Condon with a Patriots drawing on his helmet practicing at Gillette Stadium. Thursday, December 31, 2015. Photo by John Wilcox, Boston Herald.
“Usually when I’m at Gillette Stadium, in the last row of the nosebleeds, but it’s kind of nice to be back on the main level,” Condon told NHL.com Thursday. “You’re up there and now you’re down here, so it puts things in perspective.”
He’s also pumped to be playing in front of his family and close friends who, despite growing up as Bruins fans, will be supporting the Habs on Friday.
“All of my family and friends will be wearing the bleu, blanc and rouge for sure,” Condon told NHL.com. “I think the maximum number of tickets you could get was 14 so I maxed that out. Other than that, there’s a lot of friends outside the close group that are still coming.”
Condon’s father Ted, a Sergeant for the Massachusetts State Police, actually got to escort the Habs’ team bus to Gillette Stadium on Thursday and he will be tailgating with the Condon clan Friday.
“[Friday] he definitely has a day off so he is going to be tailgating,” Condon told NHL.com. “He had the opportunity to escort the bus today. It’s always good to have that family support here. He’s had a big impact in my life and I am really happy to have him there.”
Inside Gillette, in the Habs dressing room, the rookie goalie will be in his zone preparing to hopefully take home two much-needed points for his team.
“It’s an honor for me to go out there, but at the end of the day, it’s just another game, another two points,” Condon said.