MONTREAL — Goaltender Mike Condon has a deep appreciation for every minute he’s been able to spend in the NHL. He also understands that the 55 games he appeared in for the Canadiens last season didn’t buy him a shred of security.
It was exactly one year ago that the Needham, Mass., native endeared himself to Canadiens fans by beating Dustin Tokarski to the backup job behind Carey Price. He fared exceptionally well in that role, going 7-2-1 to start his career before Price went down with the second of two knee injuries that would limit him to only 12 games of action last season.
Condon’s trial by fire as Montreal’s de facto starter was tumultuous.
Two years removed from starting games for the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, he was put in the unenviable position of replacing the league’s reigning MVP. The results—a 21-25-3 record, a .903 save percentage and a 2.71 goals against—were respectable considering the Canadiens, who were plagued by injuries throughout the entire back half of the season, finished with the league’s 16th-ranked offence.
But that didn’t stop general manager Marc Bergevin from signing goaltender Al Montoya to a one-year, one-way contract worth $950,000 after the 31-year-old posted a 12-7-3 record and a .919 save percentage as Roberto Luongo’s auxiliary in Florida last season. The move has forced Condon into a dogfight to keep plying his trade in the NHL.
On Monday, the 26-year-old started the first game of Montreal’s exhibition schedule. He stopped eight of 10 shots before Charlie Lindgren stepped in halfway through the second period and stopped 16 of 17 in the 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Condon wasn’t hanging his head over two good plays Devils centre Adam Henrique made to put pucks by him.
“I had trouble getting into the game a little bit, but I felt pretty good,” he said. “I just gotta work a little bit on getting used to game speed.”
Condon’s commitment to working on his game is undying.
It wasn’t long after his five-game stint with Team USA at the World Championships in May that he began the process of trying to improve on a few aspects he felt needed sharpening. One thing he focused on was puck tracking.
Condon hooked up with a sports vision doctor at his practice facility in Massachusetts and signed up for 12, one-hour sessions of what he referred to as “cutting-edge reflex conditioning.”
“There were about 20-30 different techniques, computer programs working eye convergence and eye divergence—just things that help your eyes function better and work on building a very three-dimensional view of the game,” Condon said.
“My reaction time improved by two tenths of a second from initial baseline tests done at the beginning of the program.”
Just as that process yielded positive results over time, Condon will have to hope the work he puts in at Canadiens camp pays dividends.
Montoya is slated to split time with Zachary Fucale when the Canadiens welcome the Washington Capitals to the Bell Centre Tuesday. Both he and Condon will have a few more opportunities to show what they can do before Price returns from the World Cup of Hockey.
The Canadiens have games on Thursday and Saturday before rounding out their pre-season with three games next week.
How will Condon approach the task in front of him?
“Staying the in the moment is the biggest thing,” he said. “Whatever happened in the past doesn’t matter. What’s happening tomorrow doesn’t matter. I’m only worried about what I’m going to do take care of my body right now so that I can perform next time I’m out there. It’s the only way to keep your sanity.”
One thing’s for certain, Condon’s not taking anything for granted.