BROSSARD - Two new faces will make their Canadiens debuts on the team’s upcoming road trip, beginning with Saturday night’s game in Boston before making stops in Ottawa and Pittsburgh.
Following practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard Friday morning, coach Michel Therrien confirmed that both Mike Condon and Paul Byron will make their way into the lineup in the near future.
A training camp standout, Condon’s strong play compelled the Canadiens front office to offer him a coveted roster spot and the opportunity to start the season in the big leagues. After practice, coach Therrien confessed what he told Condon when he first called to inform the rookie that he had made the team.
“When it was announced that he was staying with us, it was probably the first thing he was told,” admitted Therrien, who was impressed with Condon’s mental toughness throughout training camp and preseason action. “’You start Sunday,’ was the first sentence I said when I called him and he was very happy.”
In his first full season in the AHL, the 25-year-old Needham, MA native backstopped the Hamilton Bulldogs to 23 victories while posting career highs in wins, games played and shutouts.
“We want to see a continuation of what he has shown in the past - be it last year in the AHL where he had performed very well or in training camp. Our goaltenders will have to give us a chance to win every game,” offered Therrien, who played three years as a defenseman in the American Hockey League. “We just want to make sure that he's still progressing. He had a really good year last year in the AHL and a really good camp. We just want to make sure that gives us a chance to win.”
The former Princeton University goaltender was reminiscent of a young Carey Price, as he was unflappable both on and off the ice in his first NHL training camp and preseason action. In fact, Condon was so reliable for the Bulldogs last season that he wasn’t pulled from a single game all season.
Heading into his first career start, the Needham, NA native is relying on his mental fortitude to focus on the task at hand. “I’m excited. It’s going to be fun. Not going to think too much about it, just going to go out there and play, exclaimed the rookie goaltender, who for his part doesn’t mind starting his first NHL game on the road. “The road doesn’t really matter. It’s all the same to me. Just want to focus on the game tomorrow and prepare for that”
Condon was clearly told when and where he would make his debut, in contrast to Paul Byron who will have to play the waiting game.
Claimed off waivers on October 6, Byron suited up for a career high 57 games with the Calgary Flames in 2014-2015. The 26-year-old picked up a new career high in shots on goal, culminating in six goals and 13 assists for a total of 19 points.
The newest member of the Canadiens brings versatility, speed and depth to the lineup.
“I’m just an all-around versatile player. I bring a lot of speed, energy and I’m good on the forcheck. I can play with skill, I can play on the penalty kill, I’m just a guy that can play up and down the lineup, maintained Byron, a character player who has the flexibility to play on all four forward lines. “I’d be playing on the fourth line sometimes and then next shift I’d be on the second line or third line, it depends on the game and depends on who is going that night. That’s the kind of niche I created for myself.”
A former post-season standout in the QMJHL with the Gatineau Olympiques, Byron is excited to play close to his hometown in Ottawa, Ontario. “You know it’s so close to home and it is such a storied franchise, to be a Montreal Canadien is a dream come true for a Canadian boy. I’m excited to be here and so is my family,” declared the fifth year NHL veteran, who scored 54 points in 34 playoff games in his junior career with the Olympiques. “Transitioning here has been pretty easy for me. The coaches communicate very well with me and try to help me out. There’s a great group of guys around the room here. So I am fitting in pretty well and it shouldn’t take too long.”
Whenever Byron does make his much anticipated Canadiens debut, he’ll be sure to have a new Habs jersey waiting for his father back home.
“My dad had mixed emotions because he grew up a Bruins fan, unfortunately for him. But I think he is going to wear the Montreal sweater this year to support me. We are just going to have to turn him over,” said Byron, with a smile.
- Jared Ostroff is a writer for Canadiens.com