Nathan Condon’s game has progressed by leaps and bounds during his two seasons in the USHL, which is exactly what NHL teams hope to see from their prospects.
After posting 29 points (11g/18a) in 58 contests during the 2008-09 season, Condon managed 51 points (23g/28a) in 60 games this year. That performance helped him gain a roster spot for the 2010 USHL All-Star Game in Indianapolis, where he netted a goal while skating for the West Division squad.
“It was great, getting a little recognition,” said Condon. “Going down to the All-Star Game was a lot of fun.”
The boost in his production can be linked directly to becoming more accustomed to the USHL’s style of play.
“Last year was a little different for me, stepping in after high school with the different pace of the game. This year I’m more used to it and things came a little easier. I’ve been able to skate the puck a lot more and make a lot more plays.”
Any NHL prospect worth his salt knows not only where his strengths lie, but also what he needs to improve upon. Condon points out strengths that include speed and puck-handling ability, but the 19-year-old still has a few areas of his game he’d like to fine-tune.
“I’m trying to improve on my physical play,” said Condon. “I’m never going to be that big physical forward, but I need to work on knocking people off the puck and using my body to play. “
Avalanche prospect Nathan Condon
knows he landed in an ideal situation with the United States Hockey League’s Fargo Force, even if things started out a bit rocky for the club.
Prior to joining the USHL, Condon was a decorated high school player with Wausau West High School, earning Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association All-State Team honors in 2007-08 after totaling 59 points (33g/26a) in 23 games during his senior season. That performance caught the eye of the Colorado Avalanche, which selected him in the seventh round (200th overall) of the 2008 Entry Draft.
After graduation, Condon’s hockey compass pointed to Fargo, North Dakota, where he joined the Force – a USHL expansion team - in hopes of fine-tuning his game before heading to the college ranks.
The USHL, the nation’s only Tier 1 junior hockey league, has often been used as a stepping stone to NCAA Hockey, and eventually the NHL, by players including Paul Stastny
, David Backes, Ryan Malone, Kyle Okposo, T.J. Oshie, Joe Pavelski, Brian Rafalski and Thomas Vanek.
“It’s the closest you can get to the college level,” said Condon, who will play NCAA hockey next season for the University of Minnesota. “Playing 60-plus games per season, I’ve really developed a lot. It’s pushing you every day because you know if you don’t perform you’re not going to be around too long. I think that’s really helped me.”
Not surprisingly, the Force - operating in its first season in 2008-09 and with a roster full of inexperienced players - didn’t fare too well right off the bat.
“Most teams in our league had quite a few veterans on their team and we were basically a rookie team,” said the 6-foot, 190-pound forward. “I actually remember we came into our preseason tournament and we didn’t have a shot for the first two periods. We struggled at the beginning of the year. It’s a different pace, a different kind of game and took a while for us to adjust.”
Fortunately for the Force, the learning curve wasn’t too steep.
After a rough start that saw the team post a 3-8 record in its first 11 contests, the Force turned things around and went 29-15-5 the rest of the season to gain a playoff berth before going on an unlikely run to the Clark Cup Finals as a first-year franchise.
There, they lost a best-of-five series to the Indiana Ice.
But instead of resting on the laurels of shocking the USHL community, Condon and his Fargo teammates used the defeat as motivation for the 2009-10 season.
The Force again earned a playoff spot this season and currently find themselves back in the same position where their season ended a year ago – in the USHL Clark Cup Finals.
Currently, Fargo holds a 2-0 series lead in their best-of-five matchup with the favored Green Bay Gamblers, placing the team one victory away from claiming the league title.
“From day one we knew we wanted to get back there. That was our goal,” said Condon. “We have a lot of veteran players this season and we made it a goal that we wouldn’t come up short again. Coming into the playoffs, the Gamblers were the favorite. I think they only lost 10 games all season. But we bore down and played a couple of good games, now we’re looking at maybe clinching in the next couple of games here.”
Condon, one of Fargo’s assistant captains this season, hints jokingly that patience may not be one of his strong suits. After helping Fargo win the first two games of the series this past Friday (April 30) and Saturday (May 1), he’s been champing at the bit while waiting for a chance to possibly close out the series.
He’ll have to wait a few more days.
In a scheduling quirk, Game Three of the series won’t be played until Friday (May 7), giving the Force and the Gamblers five full days to practice and think about the do-or-die contest.
“I’m kind of struggling right now, having five days off until the next game,” Condon quipped. “All I’m thinking about is the next game. It’s a long week. It wasn’t like that for the other rounds. With this break, it’s a bit of a hassle.”
But if all ends well – and Fargo closes out the series with a victory this weekend – the wait will be worthwhile for the Avalanche prospect.