Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Guest TigerBlog - On Mike Condon's NHL Debut

TigerBlog had a small black-and-white TV in his room as a kid.

He used to watch a lot of pro sports then, a lot more pro sports than he does now, for that matter. He didn't have cable - there was no cable yet - and most of what he saw was on channel 9 out of New York. Or channel 11.

Those were great times to be a sports fan. He got to see Red Holtzman's Knicks, not knowing that some day he would come to associate Bill Bradley much more with Princeton than in the NBA. He watched ABA games too, with Dr. J on the Nets.

And he saw hockey. Lots of hockey. First the Rangers, and then, after 1972, the Islanders as well.

TigerBlog has always liked hockey. He's never been a "hockey guy" per se, but he watched a lot of NHL games when he was younger. If you're in TigerBlog's age range, you remember Peter Puck from the NHL Game of the Week.

He's always loved going to Baker Rink for Princeton hockey. There isn't a vantage point in the rink that is bad, and the game moves at a lightning pace. It's especially great for kids, who can't tell the difference between that and the NHL when they sit with their faces pressed to the glass.

Princeton hockey starts soon. Before that, though, Princeton alums are already playing, including one - goaltender Mike Condon - who is one of the better stories of the young NHL season, after he earned a spot as the Montreal Canadiens backup.

TigerBlog couldn't do justice to Condon's NHL debut, which was Sunday night, in a 3-1 win over Ottawa. Princeton hockey contact Kristy McNeil volunteered to blog about the game, and here are her thoughts:

I have to admit, Sunday night I was nervous. There are still times I get nervous when one of my Princeton teams play, usually big games. NCAA games, games with Ivy League titles on the line.

This time it was because Mike Condon ’13 was making his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens.

It was announced just last week that Condon had made the Canadiens roster, during a press conference with general manager Marc Bergevin.

I couldn’t have been happier for Condo. His dream was coming true.

I remember back to my first road trip as the Princeton hockey SID. It was 2011, the first road trip of the year and we were in Providence. The team was at pre-game meal and telling jokes. Captain Marc Hagel – who signed with the Minnesota Wild this summer – told the team to keep them clean because there was a woman in the room.

That’s one of my worst fears, making a team feel uncomfortable because I’m a woman. I want them to be at ease and as though I’m not even there. And with that I decided I need to set the tone.  “Hey I have a joke,” I said. It was R-rated, and I think I shocked most of the players. But then Condon broke the silence with his huge laugh and said “she’s way funnier than Yariv!” – the former SID.

My most memorable Condon performance in the Orange & Black came in 2012 at Union. Union was ranked No. 8 in the country at the time. The game recap that night says it all:
The talk at the end of the game wasn't about No. 8 Union defeating Princeton men's hockey 3-0. It was the unbelievable game by the Tigers' netminder junior Mike Condon. Condon who made a career high 57 saves, crushing his previous best mark of 43 set earlier this season at Yale.
Condon's night ranks fourth all-time in Princeton history. The last time a Princeton goalie made 50+ saves in a game was Eric Leroux when he stopped 52 at Harvard in a 5-4 overtime loss on Feb. 10, 2006. Walter McDonough holds the record of 61 that was stopped in a game versus Rensselaer in 1984.

Reading on about what I had written four seasons ago…

With six minutes left in the second, Condon put on a show but making a great toe save on the far post and than immediately flew to the other save to stop a shot by Shawn Stuart. He made some great moves again on Princeton's second penalty kill as he was on his back followed by a quick stick save to deflect the puck wide. Seconds later he nearly did a split to get a leg save on the right post. At the end of the second, he had made 41 saves.

Condon is the first goaltender in Princeton history to play in the NHL and the 12th player in program history to play in the Big Show.

After his senior season ended, like most players he signed an amateur tryout agreement. Some players will play a short while as teams in the East Coast Hockey League scoop up collegiate players during spring breaks and then release them when classes resume. Condon, however, made his mark with the Ontario Reign, and had a little luck too.

The Houston Aeros, the then-AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, had some injuries and needed a competent goaltender right away. Ontario had just the guy, and sent Condon on loan. They never got him back.

Condon went 3-0 with a 2.39 GAA and a .919 save percentage and played three more games in the Calder Cup playoffs. A couple of weeks later, he signed to a two-year contract with Montreal.

He spent most of 2013-14 with Wheeling (ECHL) while making a few starts with Hamilton (AHL) and being named the third goalie for Monteal in the NHL playoffs. Last year he became Hamilton’s starter and posted a .921 earning him a two-year contract extension with Montreal.

It was preseason this year that Condon impressed the front office. He did not allow a goal during his two preseason appearances, which included a 17-save shutout against Toronto. In practices, he continued to be the make his mark and got the nod as backup to Hart Trophy winner Carey Price in place of Dustin Tokarski.

One of the best parts about Condon’s first press conference following the announcement that he had made the roster was his reference to former Prineton teammate Sean Bonar. The two redheads battled it out for a starting position while at Princeton, and Condon said it was that experience that has him primed for his time now as the backup to Carey Price.

I never had to worry about Condon in any interview during his time as a Tiger. He’s well spoken, intelligent and a people person. His personality made him one of my early favorites when I started with the team. He always made me feel welcome, looked out for me and made me feel like a part of the team.

The guy who made the warm-up mix, the one who told me I wasn’t allowed to choose bus movies anymore after an admittedly bad blind Netflix choice – back when you got them via red envelope. He would get me coffee on his own pre-game trips to Starbucks on the road – and never let me pay him back (almost like a reverse NCAA violation).

I remembered all of those moments on Sunday night, when I pulled out the file to create the image that will adorn one of the glass window panes of historic Hobey Baker Rink.

Condon was spectacular in his debut. He finished with 20 saves – one without his goalie stick - and gave the Montreal faithful something to talk about. The NHL Network named him the second star of the game.

It couldn’t have been a better debut for Condon.


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