BROSSARD, Que.— Goaltender Mike Condon doesn’t take off his shirt so much as he wrestles with it.
An hour of three-on-twos, two-on-ones and one-on-nothings followed by 10 minutes of a seven-man goalie’s nightmare has him drenched in sweat. Exhausted, he stretches his way into a dry shirt, grabs a Montreal Canadiens baseball cap, and readies himself to speak to the reporters and cameras gathered by his nook in the northeast corner of the team’s dressing room.
Condon received some extra attention on Monday as Montreal’s choice for the Bill Masterton Trophy. Every team nominates a player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey with three finalists from around the NHL being announced at a later date.
Humility is not a prerequisite to win the award, but Condon can’t help but exhibit it as he avoids eye contact with TV cameras to talk about his selection.
“It’s an honour to be nominated with guys like (Paul Byron and Andrei Markov), and you see names on the wall over there like Saku Koivu and Max Pacioretty,” said Condon. “They went through a lot more difficult times than I had with their respective health concerns, and there’s a lot of guys who’ve gone through a lot of things. I’m just doing my job.”
Condon started his rookie season as Carey Price‘s backup before last year’s Vezina trophy winner and league MVP suffered a long-term lower-body injury.
The 25-year-old Condon was then thrusted into the starter role, and reflected on the year Monday.
He described what he was feeling before his first game on Oct. 11, when he turned aside 20 shots in a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
“I remember smells, emotions, where I sat in the locker-room, butterflies, not being able to sleep the night before, the pregame nap, non-existent,” said Condon.
It’s been a whirlwind season for the Holliston, Mass., native who’s gone 18-23-6 with a 2.72 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.
“I learned how to handle (the pressure) as the year went on,” said Condon. “You try to distance yourself from the talk and only focus on what matters.
“I’m not sure how many people live in the province of Quebec or in the city of Montreal, but everyone knows how to play goalie here. That’s good. If I ever need some advice, I can ask any one of those guys.”
The Princeton University alumna considers it a cosmic event that had him originally called to the AHL’s Houston Aeros in 2013.
He knows that where he’s come from since then — from the ECHL back through the AHL and eventually to the NHL — has been a function of hard work.
“I ran a moving and storage company in college,” said Condon. “We’d go up to the fifth floor of a no-elevator building with a narrow hall and two of us would grab a six hundred-pound sofa bed — a nasty ratty sofa bed with Cheetos in it — lug it down, put it in the truck, move it into a storage area where it would sit for the summer, and then we’d put it back in their room after.
“We ran a pretty successful business and raised about $200,000 for school. We broke a few things in the process which we’re not too proud of, but that was physically the hardest job I’ve ever done.”
It was all part of what prepared Condon for the rigours of being a shooting target for hockey’s finest snipers. It’s also a job that causes damage.
Condon’s right ankle has been heavily taped since December, and he catalogues “minor stuff”, like the deep contusions, as things that have required constant treatment.
“There was times where I probably could not have played, but you never want to give up your position in the net because you never know when it could be taken from you,” said Condon. “Muscle pulls, strains and stuff like that — I’m not the only one who’s got them. You deal with it.”
It pales in comparison to the pain Condon went through after his sophomore season at Princeton in 2011 when he had surgery on his right hip. He followed it up with surgery on his left hip shortly after.
“I had my femur shaved, my labrum reattached and my cartilage smoothed out,” said Condon. “The day after my second hip surgery, my dad threw out my Oxycodone painkillers. He didn’t want me getting hooked. I was supposed to be on them for a week.
“Sitting down and doing normal stuff with a fresh wound was painful.”
There have been other aches and pains along the way, none quite as biting for Condon as having the Canadiens fall from first to 23rd in the NHL standings with him as their starter.
But his dedication has been unimpeachable and Condon’s perseverance allowed him to hold his head high as he reflected on the long journey to being recognized for an NHL award.
“Statistically speaking, the odds of me ending up here are pretty minuscule,” Condon said. “Every day has just been a blessing.”