TORONTO – Mike Condon experienced a few big firsts against the Leafs on Saturday night.
Making his second appearance of the preseason, Condon got the call for his first career NHL start in the team’s first road game of the campaign. Kicking aside all 17 shots he faced in Toronto, the 25-year-old netminder is now perfect through over 90 minutes of preseason action, stopping all 38 pucks that have been thrown his way in 2015-16.
“It was a fun game. It was a tough day flying into Toronto this morning, but the guys responded well. They were unbelievable at bringing the puck out and we got some big blocked shots,” praised Condon, whose teammates blocked 15 of the Leafs’ 43 shot attempts on the night. “I thought the guys played great. It was fun to get the first preseason win.”
Despite being on the receiving end of hits from both Leo Komarov and James van Riemsdyk – who were both called for goaltender interference penalties in the game – the 6-foot-4 Needham, MA native had no issue with the Leafs’ forwards making themselves a little too comfortable in the blue paint on Saturday night.
“They were certainly making their net-front presence felt. It was a physical game, but that just gets you into the game more,” said Condon. “There weren’t a lot of shots, but when you’re getting hit a little bit, it gets your mind back in the game and you get a little fire in your stomach. It kind of helps.”
Signed as a free agent in 2013, the Princeton University alum inked a two-year extension with the Canadiens last February and spent the spring in Montreal as a member of the Black Aces during the 2015 postseason. While he didn’t see any playoff action during his time with the team, he did manage to use his stint with the big club to learn a few lessons from the best goaltender in the world.
“Carey [Price] is a guy every goalie wants to emulate,” explained Condon, who posted a .921 save percentage, a 2.44 goals-against average and four shutouts in 48 games with the Bulldogs last season. “He’s a cool character. Watching the game, nothing flusters him. It’s awesome to watch. You don’t even have to talk to him; you can just watch him and the calmness and relaxedness emanates from him and the team feeds off that. It’s definitely something I should work on and every goalie should work on. Over the summer, I did a lot of mental stuff and I’m just trying to think less. That’s the best way to put it. You just try to quiet the mind and go out there and have fun.”
In addition to watching and learning from the 2015 Vezina, Ted Lindsay, Jennings and Hart Trophy winner, Condon also credits his goaltending coaches with having helped prep him to make the next step in his career.
“Steph [Waite] is awesome and we’ve been getting a lot of good work in. There are a lot of other good goalie coaches here, with Marco Marciano and Vincent Riendeau,” praised Condon. “I worked with them a lot in the AHL last year. I owe them a lot of credit. They turned my game around and Steph has done wonders up here. Montreal’s got some great goalie minds.”
While it won’t count on his official NHL stats sheet, Condon also registered his first career NHL shutout during Saturday’s tilt in Toronto – although he had his perfect night spoiled by van Riemsdyk, who scored for the Leafs 44 seconds into the league-mandated 3-on-3 overtime period that following the Canadiens’ 1-0 regulation win.
“Yeah, I’m not sure if that was a win and a loss or what was going on there,” joked Condon, who earned both a win and a shutout with his performance.
Enjoying the heaviest workload of any Habs netminder so far this season with his 60 minutes of action at the Air Canada Centre, Condon has been displaying plenty of the trademark poise he’s seen from Price during his time between the pipes in the preseason. While the sample size has been small so far, Condon has been turning heads with his perfect performances in September.
“I think every guy comes to training camp thinking they can make the team and they hope they do. I’m the same way,” he shared. “I want to make the team and I want to work hard and I’m just happy to be here and happy to get the opportunity. This whole training camp, I just tried to kind of isolate myself and keep things simple to not put any pressure on myself. I’m just trying to have fun.
“There are still a lot of games to be played and there are a lot of practices to be had,” added Condon. “Tomorrow morning it starts all over again.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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