The Rise of Mike Condon

With his first NHL win in his first NHL game, Mike Condon looks set for a solid rookie season. | Photo: Marc DesRosiers, USA Today Sports

With his first NHL win in his first NHL game, Mike Condon looks set for a solid rookie season. | Photo: Marc DesRosiers, USA Today Sports

Around this time, just three years ago, Mike Condon was beginning his senior year with the Princeton University Varsity Hockey Team. Fast forward three years, and now Mike Condon has his first NHL victory, doing it with a show-stopping save on Erik Karlsson with just 43 seconds left.

As it would turn out, Mike Condon’s senior year would turn out to be pivotal for his hockey career. While he was brick wall with Belmont Hill High in the USHS, he played a backup role for his first three NCAA seasons. Sean Bonar, despite starting his NCAA career a year later than Condon, jumped over Condon on the Princeton depth chart, mitigating Condon’s play time to just 29 games in his first three seasons combined.

Condon made the most of his limited time in the crease. In his junior year, he posted a team-best 0.919 SV% and a 2.88 GAA in 14 games. Condon finally claimed the starting role during his senior year, ousting Bonar, and he never looked back.

In the starting role, Condon pieced together the best season of his NCAA career: Eight wins, 0.923 SV%, 2.48 GAA. Condon played 24 games, just five less than the previous three years combined.

Despite this great turnaround, Condon only obtained a professional try-out from the Ontario Reign, Los Angeles’ ECHL affiliate.┬áCondon’s stay in Ontario, California would incredibly short–just four games. Condon annihilated the competition, posting a 0.943 SV% and a 1.48 GAA, earning him five games with the AHL’s Houston Areos.

In Houston, Condon made both his first and last appearances in relief, but recorded a 0.938 SV%, 2.00 GAA, and three wins in three starts. With the season over and an short, but fabulous professional showing, Condon signed a little-talked-about contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile then conference rival, but eventual teammate Eric Hartzell, a Hobey Baker finalist and one the summer’s top NCAA free agents, signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Although Condon thoroughly impressed his short time in the AHL the year previous, Condon played spent nearly the entire 2013-2014 season with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers. Condon’s season was simply remarkable. In 39 games, the rookie netminder led the ECHL in SV% with 0.931. To close out the regular season, Condon recorded four shutouts in six games, and allowed just 16 goals in his last 12 games. Condon became the team’s de facto starter over the course of year, beating out Hartzell, who stumbled out of the AHL, in the process.

In Condon's AHL rookie season, he recorded a 0.921 SV% and a 2.44 GAA. | Photo: Hamilton Bulldogs

In Condon’s AHL rookie season, he recorded a 0.921 SV% and a 2.44 GAA. | Photo: Hamilton Bulldogs

The following season, Condon would once again win the crease, this time beating out veteran Joey MacDonald in Hamilton. Over the course of the season, Condon emerged as one of the league’s top goaltenders, continually keeping an offensively-challenged ‘Dogs team in the game.

This year, it looked like Condon was bound for St. John’s. Dustin Tokarski, despite a shaky performance last season, has shown glimpses of legitimate NHL talent, and unlike Condon, required waivers to be sent down. But just as Condon done the previous three years–he out-dueled his competition. He outplayed Tokarski in a split game versus Washington early in the preseason and then shutout Toronto shortly after.

Combining strong technical elements and a relentless desire to win with a calm demeanour, Condon has the tools become a solid goaltender at the NHL. He is efficient in the net, utilizing strong positioning and angle work to minimize shooting space. Condon really shines in the butterfly–his powerful, precise lateral movement and ability fight through make him a tough to beat. As shown with J.G. Pageau’s goal on him, Condon still has work to do up high, but there’s no doubt he’s above-average there.

Throughout Condon’s hockey career he has faced challenge after challenge. Beating out four netminders–Bonar, Hartzell, MacDonald, and Tokarski–in four different leagues in four years is no easy task. Now, Condon faces an insurmountable challenge, that of winning Carey Price’s crease. It’s safe to say that Condon will never do it, but there’s no doubt that his rise has been incredible.

Between Peter Budaj, Tokarski, and Condon, Montreal has gone through three different backups in the past three years. However, it didn’t seem that the first two had legitimate starting upside in the NHL, something which Condon appears to have. That upside might never be reached with Montreal, but for now, it looks like Condon will be a key member of the bleu, blanc, and rouge this season.

Perhaps Bob Cole call on Condon’s big stop on Erik Karlsson is best way to summarize Condon’s first NHL win:

“Ryan centred it, another shot from the other side. Big move by Mike Condon! And he makes a dandy stop with 43 seconds remaining.”

“And he makes a dandy stop.” Words that will be said many times about Mike Condon throughout his career.

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