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Putting in the work

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

BROSSARD -- Mike Condon was honored by the media on Monday, but won the respect of his teammates long ago.

The first-year netminder was named the team’s candidate for the 2015-16 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the Montreal chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

Only five Canadiens players have ever been awarded the trophy, but there’s no question in the Habs’ most recent winner’s mind that Condon has been a poster boy for those exact attributes.

“Condo was obviously put into a very tough situation, so it’s a huge testament to his character,” expressed captain Max Pacioretty, who took home the honor in 2011-12. “He’s a guy who doesn’t get comfortable or rest on past accomplishments. He’s at the rink every day working very hard on getting better and taking care of his body, and I think that’s a big reason why he’s made it this far.”

Pacioretty won the award in his comeback season from a fractured vertebra suffered on March 8, 2011, and was quick to underline just how much the recognition represents.

“It meant a lot to me because I think people were questioning how I’d come back from my injury,” acknowledged the team’s leading point-getter. “For me, it was probably my biggest accomplishment in hockey so far, but I credit everybody in my corner, whether it be family or trainers or the friends who helped motivate me to come back better. I think it’s a character trophy more than anything.”

In Condon’s case, it was an injury to starting goaltender Carey Price that forced the 25-year-old to show his resolve. After Price was sidelined for the first time on November 1, Condon stepped in and continued to ride an early season point-streak to the tune of a 7-1-2 record in his first ten NHL games. He’s since gone 18-23-6 with a 2.72 goals against average and 0.902 save percentage, and leads all rookie goaltenders in wins (18), saves (1,181) and minutes played (2,826).

“You don’t replace Carey Price, it’s impossible. All we can do is make sure we show up prepared to play our best and work our hardest,” continued Pacioretty. “I think that’s why guys have respected Condo right from the start -- they’d see him at the rink on off-days working hard, or in the trainer’s room making sure he was as good as he could be out there. Guys who have that kind of preparation get a lot of respect.”

Indeed, that respect was voiced from every corner of the dressing room on Monday.

“He’s had a lot on his plate this year. He’s probably never been in a situation like this where he’s had to play this many games, but he’s done everything we could have asked of him. He’s come in with the right attitude, and he’s taken a step or two forward in his career this year. There shouldn’t be any fingers pointed at him,” underlined Lars Eller. “From what I’ve seen from Mike this year, I think he has a very good head on his shoulders. All the things you want to see from a rookie, a new guy, or a young player -- he’s given us.”

Added assistant captain Tomas Plekanec; “He’s been great for us, especially when he jumped in after Carey got hurt at the beginning of the season. He played really well for us, and he’s a great guy to have on the team as a backup goalie. He’s been doing a great job.”

For the man himself, the experience has predictably been a moving on.

“I’m not really expecting many awards this year, but it’s an honor to be nominated,” admitted Condon following Monday’s practice. “You see names on the wall like Saku Koivu and Max Pacioretty, guys who went through a lot more difficult times than I did with their respective health concerns, while I’m just doing my job and playing hockey. It’s nice to get that recognition, but it’s not what I’m after, and it’s not what we’re trying to do as a team. I’m not a guy who likes the spotlight or the attention, so it’s just very humbling.”

But not exactly unexpected given the Holliston, MA native’s approach to business.

“Whenever you come into a new locker room, whether you’re traded or called up, or it’s your first time with a team, you’ve always got to earn the respect of your coaches, teammates, and all the staff. That’s a responsibility everyone has, so that’s what I’ve tried to do,” added Condon, who was signed by the Canadiens as an undrafted free agent in 2013. “I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut as much as possible, and work my hardest.”

Monday’s nomination is just the latest memorable moment in a season which has been full of them for Condon, including making his NHL debut, a father-son road trip in November, and playing near his hometown in Foxboro before a massive crowd at the Winter Classic on January 1. Still, true to himself, the former Princeton product is not ready to bask in the accolades just yet.

“Once the season’s over I’ll have a lot of memories that I’ll be able to look back on, but right now we’ve still got a couple of game left and we want to finish strong,” concluded Condon. “We’re professionals, and we want to win every game we play. Wearing this jersey is something special, at least for me it is. Every game you get in this league, in my eyes is a blessing and a gift. You’ve got to respect that and go out there and prepare and perform like it’s your last.”

Steven Nechay is a writer for canadiens.com

SEE ALSO:
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From the room
Mike Condon is the Montreal Canadiens candidate for the Bill Masterton Trophy in 2015-16
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A complicated second
The Numbers Game: March 26, 2016

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